Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Diminishing returns

The Daily Telegraph entertains and informs again with its excellent “your view” section, where readers provide their considered opinions on the issues of the day.

I find a lively debate, inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding whether full-time working mothers are detrimental to family cohesion and children’s welfare.

Among the predictable pearls thrown up by those with nothing better to do all day than take the Archbishop of Canterbury seriously, I alight upon this little gem, posted by a Mr Arnold Ward:

My wife and I both work around 75% which seems to work for us and our two children - maybe this is a model that should be more universally adopted.

Truly we are in the presence of genius. He continues…

Moreover, just because they are women does not mean that they are going make great mothers, my own mother was not temperamentally well suited to childcare - try as she might.

Evidently, she was not much cop at elementary statistics or basic logic, either. On the other hand, I do hope she’s still hale enough to hotfoot it round to his place and kick his sorry, ungrateful and mathematically-illiterate ass all over the room.

For his next trick, Mr Ward will solve income inequality by giving everyone a 10% pay rise…


Mr Ward’s grasp of numbers is eight today. Many happy returns!

23 comments:

Thomas Pauli said...

I, for my part, would love to work around 0%, compensated by a 100% rise in pay!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Females should certainly work hard at having babies and suckling infants. They should also hunt for food, like the lioness. Housewives should collect snails and frogs in the back garden and sell their surplus to the French. The neighbour's dog might also be worth a try. I like a woman with a spear.

Desargues said...

Quite unbeknownst to him, Arnie is onto something deep in the foundations of statistical inference. It is, in fact, true that, for single individual women, you cannot know, based on any amount of statistical inference, whether they're gonna make good mothers or not. When they tell us, pace Arnold Ward, that women are overwhelmingly likely to be good mothers -- let's say, to the tune of 97% -- all that that statement means is that, in a sample large enough, about 97% of them will be good mothers. The larger your sample, the closer you get to 97% actual good mothers. But that statement is entirely meaningless when applied to an individual; because, in this and other similar cases, statistical probabilities mean simply relative frequencies and nothing else, they are simply devoid of meaning with respect to individual persons. You just cannot infer that the probability of Mrs Ward mère being a good mother is 97%; that number only has meaning when applied to a collective sample. Statistical frequencies are no conclusive evidence for conclusions about individuals. That is a point I often relish in making when your average do-gooder lectures me on the ills of smoking, instead of asking me if I enjoy my Marlboro.

Of course, relative statistical frequencies are a very good guide to action: just because I don't know, theoretically speaking, what my own actual chances of getting lung cancer are (they could be 0%, by the way), doesn't mean I should keep lighting up them... erm... fags.

And there's another aspect Arnie may have chosen to emphasize. Dividing a collective along mere gender lines to determine probabilities is too coarse a partition. In plain English, while it may be true that 86% of all women are good mothers, that class can be divided into finer-grained partitions, in which the probabilities may vary wildly. It could be 98% among white Anglo-Saxon Protestant upper-middle class suburban women married to executive husbands; it could be as low as, say, 27% among high-school dropout single mothers in the redneck ghetto of East Baltimore. Representatives from each sub-class are all women; but the statistical distribution of good motherhood among them varies wildly. So, who knows; maybe Arnie has inside information that makes him think his own mom's not that qualified for the job.

This lecture on the nature of inductive reasoning is over. We now resume our scheduled programme of inconsequential chatter and mordant snark.

PI said...

Ststistics- Schamistics. My first said you could make them prove anything - and he should know. I too hope Arniold's ma can be bothered to go round and boot him up the stern.
He doesn't sound like your usual DT kind of guy!

Ivan the Terrible said...

TP - get in line.

GB - I believe Thailand boasts a large population of ladies with spears, if you ever feel like gratifying that particular fantasy.

Des - good point, well made. If only more people smoked fags, we could give that disgraceful statistical canard the lie once and for all. Unfortunately, waving a placard telling everyone to smoke fags counts as hate speech in my neck of the woods. No sympathy for cultural diversity there...

And Pi - I think he got lost on his way to the Guardian. You know them and their typos - he probably just entered it wrongly in Google.

Cantemir said...

Oooh, East Baltimore. I was amazed, upon arriving here, to find that America had whole neighborhoods that make Ferentari look like Sinaia ca. 1929. How can they have such a great country and yet have so much of it look like it was under Soviet occupation?

Come to that, if the Soviets occupied East Baltimore, one imagines that the crime rate there would go through the floor.

Cantemir said...

Oooh, East Baltimore. I was amazed, upon arriving here, to find that America had whole neighborhoods that make Ferentari look like Sinaia ca. 1929. How can they have such a great country and yet have so much of it look like it was under Soviet occupation?

Come to that, if the Soviets occupied East Baltimore, one imagines that the crime rate there would go through the floor.

PI said...

What was that again cantemir?

Desargues said...

Eh, Ferentari -- good times... I used to walk back home from my then girlfriend's place at two in the morning through that area, and nothing ever happened to me. Try to do that in B'more's Greenmount: the kevlar vest that would save my life there hasn't yet been manufactured. An armoured Humvee may do the trick, though.

East Baltimore: the Western Hemisphere's bold answer to Fallujah.

And Ivan: you may be exaggerating the intolerance of your locals. Only a few states to the west, people smoke fags safely in the knowledge that the First Amendment protects them.

R. Sherman said...

I read this post this morning, Ivan and am still trying to figure it out.

Does 75% mean they each work 18 hour days or does it mean they each work 6 hours of a typical work day? Then doesn't that mean that they need 1.5 humans to support the family? Why isn't Mr. Ward working 8 hours, thereby allowing the Mrs. to only work 4? What sort of a bastard is he?

If he were in this country, he'd work the extra 4 hours per day. That would mean he'd be working 50% of a 24 hour day.

But he'd be paid time and a half which would equate to 6 hours, thereby giving the family a total of 14 hours or 58% of a full day or 175% of a work day.

Or should I not comment after having a couple of beers and bad day?

Cheers.

Cantemir said...

Des,

Mafia aside, your average Gypsy isn't particularly violent and would much rather break into your empty house than mug you. One notes, notwithstanding, that there are a lot of jandarmi in Ferentari, and they must be there for a reason.

I used to walk around downtown Toronto at all hours, and I lived in Parkdale. I was accosted by hookers a couple times, but when they realized I wasn't in the market, they took it in stride, so to speak.

If I were to wander around, say, Camden, at 2:00 pm, there wouldn't be enough of me left to pick up with a sponge - just a greasy streak on the ground, to be commemorated with a graffito reading 'here lies Cantemir - first a bloody idiot, then a bloody smear.' At 2:00 am - the mind boggles. Disintegration? Eternal damnation?

Anonymous said...

Cantimir

I used to work in East Baltimore and just down the road in Glen Burnie for a few years. I can attest that it is one of the major architectural disasters after Dundee and East Kilbride. But then much of Baltimore was developed by Scots. Perhaps that is the reason.

PI said...

Thanks Randall - you're such a comfort. I ccouldn't grasp it either but didn't like to confess in case you all thought I was an airhead!

Desargues said...

Cantemir--

In Camden, they don't commemorate hapless intellectuals venturing into urban no man's land. Grafitti are the mark of distinction for the illustrious locals who reach prominence in the collective memory of the 'hood: the slain gangster; the aspiring rapper who tried to solve artistic differences at the local club with a .22 Beretta; the established drug dealer who lost to his ruthless business competition; and the unfortunate teenager caught in the cross-fire. Victims of muggings gone wrong are probably chalked off as collateral damage. Down there, only Tupac gets an epitaph; dead scientists barely get a shrug of the shoulders.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Randall, Pi - don't beat yourself up. The fact that it didn't make any sense from start to finish was pretty much the point :)

Kieran said...

Statistically, at least one of us commenters has been on a tv reality show.

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Arnie said...

We run the full gamut of thickos here - by around 75% I quite obviously meant around three quarters of the usual time people put into work, i.e plus minus five and a half hours per day which between my wife and I means time to walk to and from the local school twice a day, a few hours at the park or on the river with our kids and so on and so forth. Plus my wife and I agree that we both had mothers who remain difficult people. - Arnold Ward, Weybridge, Surrey, UK