Tag Archives: Population

Are secular concerns about overpopulation science-based or science fiction?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

Christian apologists should care about this Weekly Standard story, and I’ll explain why at the end of this post.

The story begins by profiling the king of overpopulation hysteria, a man named Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s hysterical predictions were at least partly responsible for rise in public support for secular causes such as abortion, euthanasia, global warming alarmism, eugenics, and so on. But, as the article notes, Ehrlich’s predictions were wrong. Basically, you can think of overpopulation as a the “Left Behind” doomsday story of the left.

One quick example of Ehrlich’s failure at predictions:

Of course, it’s been obvious that Ehrlich was not just misguided, but an actual charlatan, since the 1970s. The late economist Julian Simon spent most of his career exposing Ehrlich’s errors. You may remember the Ehrlich-Simon wager. In 1980, Simon bet Ehrlich $1,000 that over the course of the following decade the price of a basket of commodities—any resources Ehrlich chose—would drop, as proof that Ehrlich’s ravings about the relationship of population to scarcity was wrong.

Simon was correct. Ten years later Ehrlich sent him a check, with no note. Never prone to either civility or introspection—he frequently called people he disagreed with “fools,” “idiots,” “clowns,” and worse—Ehrlich later told the Wall Street Journal, “If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity.” Hell of a guy.

The part of the article I want to look at it is how this disproved charlatan was supported by the secular left:

In 1990—the same year he lost his bet with Julian Simon—Ehrlich was awarded a million dollar MacArthur “genius” grant and was simultaneously feted across the Atlantic with Sweden’s Crafoord Prize, which was worth just about half a million. In 1993 the Heinz Family Foundation bestowed on him its first Heinz Award. This little trinket came with $100,000 in cash and the most delusional praise possible, claiming that Ehrlich’s “perspective, uncommon among scientists, has made [him and his wife] the target of often harsh criticism—criticism they accept with grace as the price of their forthrightness.” Which is a peculiar way of explaining that Ehrlich was completely wrong and that he responded to all such evidence with ad hominem attacks. Five years later, in 1998, he was awarded the Tyler Prize,which comes with $200,000. The money train kept on rolling.

And it wasn’t just dumb philanthropists. “Serious” organizations continued to honor him. In 2001, the American Institute of Biological Sciences gave Ehrlich its “Distinguished Scientist” award. In 2009, the World Wildlife Fund featured him as a guest lecturer in their flagship speaker series. In 2012, he was inducted into London’s Royal Society, which is Britain’s nearly 400-year-old national academy of science. There is more. So much more.

Paul Ehrlich’s entire career stands as a monument to the ideological imperatives of the world’s elites and the extent to which they exist not just independent from, but in actual opposition to, both science, evidence, reason, and good faith.

So basically, we are dealing with a cult leader who makes false predictions and then is celebrated even as they are falsified. It reminds me of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For just one recent story on the demographic crisis, check out this one about Germany, which has the lowest birth rate in the industrialized world, and is set for long-term decline because of it.

I basically have two issues where I diverge from the consensus view: global warming and fully naturalistic molecules-to-man evolution. Of course, I have scientific reasons to doubt them. But I also have observed for people who support these myths behave – defending their heroes and painting the opposition as crazy. It’s an important lesson to learn. How far will people go to believe what they want to believe and try to convince others to believe it, too?

How is this relevant to Christian apologetics? Well, in Christian apologetics, you don’t just talk about the resurrection. You have to establish your credibility as a truth-seeker, and it’s better if you can do it in some non-religious area. For example, I have a secular Jewish guy who I talk to who is a strong supporter of abortion. He believes in global warming, Darwinism and this overpopulation nonsense, too. If you can show him the evidence that disproves any one of these, it exposes how he has deliberately chosen to believe things that he didn’t have evidence for because he wanted to believe it so badly.

Demonstrating mastery at disproving the secular left’s myths in one area clears the way for getting them to rethink what they believe and why in every area. It’s important for Christians not to appear desperate. We cannot just fixate on the gospel and salvation and try to rush people to a conversion in 5 minutes by threatening them with Hell. We have to show them that Christianity should be adopted because it’s true, because it’s the end result of a process of thinking clearly. Thinking clearly in one area is evidence to our audience that we can at least in principle be thinking clearly about religious issues, too.

And this is another reason to be responsible and wise with your life decisions. Don’t study junk in school. Don’t work easy jobs. Don’t waste all your money on fun and thrills. Don’t lack self-control. People judge your ideas by how successful you have been in your education and profession. So make decisions that show them that you are competent, not crazy. If you present yourself as a an irresponsible, out-of-control thrill seeker who has not succeeded in your education, career and finances, then you’ll have no credibility with a secular audience before you even open your mouth. Be a person who gathers respect because you know what you are doing. If you want to succeed at evangelism, you have to heed this warning and avoid doing the easy thing just because it feels good.

CDC: Gay population is 2.3%, but young Americans believe it’s 30%

Newsbusters reports.

Excerpt:

A new comprehensive study by the CDC with over 33,000 participants has confirmed earlier estimates; less than 3 percent of the U.S. population self-identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Earlier, much smaller-scale surveys have put that number at 4 percent.

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), published July 15 by the CDC, was the first large-scale study of it’s kind. Data was collected from the Census Bureau, as The Washington Post reported, and 33,557 adults between the ages of 18 and 64 participated in the study, which included in-person interviews as well as follow-up phone questions.

The NHIS study found that, while 96.6 percent of adults identified as “straight”, 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent called themselves bisexual. 1.1 percent responded “I don’t know” or said they were “something else” not listed.

That sure doesn’t sound like society according to Hollywood, or the news media, which have young Americans convinced 30 percent of the population is gay.

This is why it’s important to be skeptical of the liberal media and Hollywood. So many false ideas floating around in the popular culture, and yet most Americans think they are very well informed. Especially the young ones. They may not have skills, but they have great confidence. The public schools taught them self-esteem, if nothing else.

American health care: does it cause poor life-expectancy and high infant mortality?

Probably one of the best health care policy experts writing today is Avik Roy, who writes for Forbes magazine.

Here is his latest column, which I think is useful for helping us all get better at debating health care policy. (H/T Matt from Well Spent Journey)

Excerpt:

It’s one of the most oft-repeated justifications for socialized medicine: Americans spend more money than other developed countries on health care, but don’t live as long. If we would just hop on the European health-care bandwagon, we’d live longer and healthier lives. The only problem is it’s not true.

[…]If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. If you have a heart attack, how long do you live in the U.S. vs. another country? If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer? In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD. They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one?

Here is the raw data:

Health care outcomes
Health care outcomes by country and type of treatment

Click here to see the larger graph.

So, what explains this?

The article continues:

Another point worth making is that people die for other reasons than health. For example, people die because of car accidents and violent crime. A few years back, Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa asked the obvious question: what happens if you remove deaths from fatal injuries from the life expectancy tables? Among the 29 members of the OECD, the U.S. vaults from 19th place to…you guessed it…first. Japan, on the same adjustment, drops from first to ninth.

It’s great that the Japanese eat more sushi than we do, and that they settle their arguments more peaceably. But these things don’t have anything to do with socialized medicine.

Finally, U.S. life-expectancy statistics are skewed by the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one health-care system, but three: Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance. (A fourth, the Obamacare exchanges, is supposed to go into effect in 2014.) As I have noted in the past, health outcomes for those on government-sponsored insurance are worse than for those on private insurance.

To my knowledge, no one has attempted to segregate U.S. life-expectancy figures by insurance status. But based on the data we have, it’s highly likely that those on private insurance have the best life expectancy, with Medicare patients in the middle, and the uninsured and Medicaid at the bottom.

I know that my readers who like to dig deep into economics and policy will love the links at the bottom of the article:

For further reading on the topic of life expectancy, here are some recommendations. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw discusses some of the confounding factors with life expectancy statistics, citing this NBER study by June and Dave O’Neill comparing the U.S. and Canada. (Mankiw calls the misuse of U.S. life expectancy stats “schlocky.”) Chicago economist Gary Becker makes note of the CONCORD study in this blog post. In 2009, Sam Preston and Jessica Ho of the University of Pennsylvania published a lengthy analysis of life expectancy statistics, concluding that “the low longevity ranking of the United States is not likely to be a result of a poorly functioning health care system.”

The funniest thing I have found when talking to people from countries with socialized health care systems, like Canada and the UK, is that they are woefully uninformed about American health care. They literally do not know about free emergency room care, which is free for anyone regardless of insurance – including illegal aliens. They do not know about our expensive Medicaid program, which helps people who cannot afford health insurance. And our very very expensive Medicare program, which provides health care to the elderly – including prescription drugs. I get the feeling that foreign critics of American health care are getting their views from amateur documentaries produced by uneducated Hollywood propagandists, or maybe from TV shows on the Comedy Channel. They certainly are not getting their information from peer-reviewed studies by credentialed scholars from top universities, like the ones cited above.

I have literally spoken to Canadians who think that people in the USA without insurance do not get treatment and just die in the streets from stab wounds. They don’t know about the emergency room rule, or about charity care, or about Medicaid and Medicare. There is a lot of ignorance up there – wilful ignorance, in some cases. And keep in mind that the average Canadian household is paying over $11,000 a year for this substandard health care! They are paying more for less, and that’s not surprising since a large chunk of the taxes that are collected for health care go to overpaid unionized bureaucrats. Naturally, when their left-wing politicians need treatment, the first place they go is to the United States, where they pay out of pocket for the better health care. But that doesn’t stop them from denouncing American health care when they are talking to voters.

Higher infant mortality rates?

One of the other common arguments you hear from uninformed people outside the USA is the higher infant mortality rates argument.

Here’s an article by Stanford University professor Scott Atlas to explain why the argument fails.

Excerpt:

Virtually every national and international agency involved in statistical assessments of health status, health care, and economic development uses the infant-mortality rate — the number of infants per 1,000 live births who die before reaching the age of one — as a fundamental indicator. America’s high infant-mortality rate has been repeatedly put forth as evidence “proving” the substandard performance of the U.S. health-care system.

[…]n a 2008 study, Joy Lawn estimated that a full three-fourths of the world’s neonatal deaths are counted only through highly unreliable five-yearly retrospective household surveys, instead of being reported at the time by hospitals and health-care professionals, as in the United States. Moreover, the most premature babies — those with the highest likelihood of dying — are the least likely to be recorded in infant and neonatal mortality statistics in other countries. Compounding that difficulty, in other countries the underreporting is greatest for deaths that occur very soon after birth.

[…]The United States strictly adheres to the WHO definition of live birth (any infant “irrespective of the duration of the pregnancy, which . . . breathes or shows any other evidence of life . . . whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached”) and uses a strictly implemented linked birth and infant-death data set. On the contrary, many other nations, including highly developed countries in Western Europe, use far less strict definitions, all of which underreport the live births of more fragile infants who soon die. As a consequence, they falsely report more favorable neonatal- and infant-mortality rates.

[…]Neonatal deaths are mainly associated with prematurity and low birth weight. Therefore the fact that the percentage of preterm births in the U.S. is far higher than that in all other OECD countries — 65 percent higher than in Britain, and more than double the rate in Ireland, Finland, and Greece — further undermines the validity of neonatal-mortality comparisons.

You can listen to a podcast with Dr. Atlas here, from the Library of Economics web site.

If you want to read more about how American health care compares with health care in socialized systems, read this article by Stanford University professor of medicine Dr. Scott Atlas. And you can get his book “In Excellent Health: Setting the Record Straight on America’s Health Care” from Amazon.