Thursday, October 09, 2014

Support for SSM continues to grow, but unevenly. (Also, what constitutes a "large portion" of a population?)

I recently saw this graphic from YouGov about the various levels of support and opposition for same-sex marriage:

Pretty cool graphic. The accompanying text pointed out that "Americans who are likely to vote in the upcoming elections tend to support (48%) rather than oppose (39%) allowing gays and lesbians to marry." This confirms reporting about polls showing general support in the US population for SSM. And - unlike inter-racial marriage - the popular position is leading the legal position, as xkcd shows in another of his amazing graphs:

Pretty neat stuff, especially for data, graph, and map nerds like me.

And then... I read the comments...
Well, I made the mistake of reading the comments, and I found - at the end of one relatively short string of back-and-forth - a statement by "William," who (for some reason) couldn't understand how the non-discrimination language of the 14th Amendment worked to alter the 1st Amendment. (In brief - and remember: IANAL - the 1st Amendment disallows Congress from making state laws about the establishment and practice of religions. The 14th Amendment disallows any state from discrimination, even if it's religiously justified discrimination. There. Not too hard to understand.) This is what he wrote:
Where is the lack of equal protection? Gay people have equal protection. What gay people want is a special classification for their perverted behavior and for everyone to accept that perverted behavior. Acceptance of the homosexual perverted behavior will Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States.

Concerning sentences 1 & 2
Well... The first two sentences are a patent misunderstanding (whether deliberate or not) of why anti-SSM creates a lack of equal protections. Maybe William should go read explanations online (such as at Wikipedia).

Concerning sentence 3
The third statement (discounting the obvious and heavily biased point of view) is just a case of special pleading on his part. As Ricky Gervais points out:
Same sex marriage is not gay privilege, it's equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. Like churches don't.
I couldn't have said it more succinctly. But perhaps William just doesn't like Ricky Gervais. Well, the edited volume by Rimmerman and Wilcox has a better explanation as to why SSM isn't a "special classification" and isn't actually the conferral of special privileges:
Antigay groups insist that allowing gay couples to marry represents granting gay people a special right on top of the right they already have. ... The Family Research Council compares laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples to laws preventing cousins from marrying and laws preventing adults from marrying children... "since these restrictions apply equally to every individual" (Sprigg 2003).
          In other words, since a gay man could marry a woman and a lesbian could marry a man (as many gay people have done -- often resulting in unhappy and dysfunctional marriages), they have the right to marry. But for a person who is attracted to and capable of falling in love with someone of the same sex, such freedom or right is pretty meaningless. In fact, these restrictions do not "apply equally to every individual" but limit the ability of gay people only to protect their life partner relationships.
          People on death row, mass murderers, rapists, and child molesters can all get married as long as they are marrying someone of the opposite sex. Yet gay and lesbian people are denied this fundamental right because the people they love are of the same sex. Their right to marry someone of the opposite sex doesn't mean much; it doesn't allow them to marry the person they love.
(Emphasis mine. Emphasis in the original.)

Perhaps William would respond with some version of the slippery slope argument (since many anti-SSM arguments usually fall back on some version of the argument of, "Well, if we allow men to marry other men, then what's to stop plural marriage, incest, or bestiality?" I'll let John Corvino take this one.

Concerning Statement 4 (the real "Hunh?!?" statement to me at this time)
But it was the last statement that had me scratching my head: "Acceptance of the homosexual perverted behavior will Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States."

Ummm... But SSM is already accepted and supported by the majority of the United States population. This - by definition - means that SSM IS "accepted by a large portion of the United States."

A recent Pew poll shows a 54% majority in favor of same-sex marriage, and the anti-SSM position is only 39% and falling.

In other words, "the homosexual perverted behavior" that William contends will "Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States" is actually - right now, today, throughout the United States - accepted by the majority of the populace. This means that the largest portion of the United States supports "the homosexual perverted behavior" (or at least allowing people who are homosexual to get married to another person of the same sex).

Now, William could say that what he actually meant by "large portion" is actually some portion of the population that is smaller than the majority, but that is still "large." But that raises the question of when is a "large portion" no longer large? Based on nothing more than the idea of a pluarlity being a portion large enough to become a ruling party (and assuming a three-party system like in the UK), I'd argue that 33.333% (i.e., 1/3 of the population) is scraping the bottom of credulity for what it means to be a "large portion." (I could have used the Italian multi-multi-multi-party system, but that case is far more complex than the three-majority-party system of the UK.)

(As a side note, I'd extend the above logic to say that  anything less than 1/3 changes is no longer a "large portion," and it enters into "minority" territory, although I'd be generous and say that anything more than 1/10 makes a group a "sizeable minority," but a minority nonetheless. In other words, if a position is supported by less than 1/3 of the population, I'd argue that it's not a position held by a "large portion" of the population.)

Now time for a thought experiment!
Okay, now that we've got a cut-off of what a (semi-credible) definition of "large portion" actually might be (I'm saying that it's 1/3 of the population), we need to determine how quickly the anti-SSM position will fall below that threshold. We have data from Pew on anti-SSM polling, and it's apparent that - since 2009 - there has been a relatively linear trend (whereas before 2009, anti-SSM sentiment bounced around without any major trend). Now, given this strong trend since 2009, let's just assume that the popular trends of anti-SSM from the Pew poll continue along the paths of the that they have been on since 2009. (Yes, I am well aware of the problems of doing linear extrapolations into the future, but this is just a simple thought experiment.) Plugging the data into Excel, we get a linear trend for the anti-SSM from 2009-2014 has an R^2 of 0.9069 (which is pretty friggin' high, given that the maximum is an R^2 of 1), and using the regression equation, we get the following projection:

2015: 36.07%
2016: 33.44%
2017: 30.81%
2018: 28.19%
2019: 25.56%
2020: 22.92%

Yowzers. If the anti-SSM trend continues (and that's a big if, supported by nothing other than arm-waving conjecture), then it will be around 2016 that the portion of the US that holds William's position drops below 1/3 of the country, and - as such - it can no longer be counted as a "large portion." Furthermore, it will be sometime in 2020 that the portion of the US that holds William's position can no longer (at least in my books) be counted as a "sizable minority."

But what if I took the entirety of Pew's polling, and go all the way back to 1996? Well, the slope will be less steep, which does change the resulting percentages (but the R^2 drops to 0.8853, which - admittedly - is still pretty good):
2015: 40.73%
2016: 39.34%
2017: 37.96%
2018: 36.57%
2019: 35.19%
2020: 33.80%

So... not as drastic. If we assume (again, based on nothing) that the overall trend from 1996-2014 is actually the more realistic trend in the anti-SSM position, then William's position will only cease to be a "large portion of the US population" sometime in 2021 by this estimation. Still 7, years is still a lot faster than his contention of "Never."

Of course, there's a reason for this trend: a major generational shift. As Pew reports on this crucially important fact:
"Currently, 68% of Millennials favor [SSM], compared with 55% of Gen Xers, 48% of Boomers and 38% of the Silent generation."

Or, to put it another way the kids (aged 5-13) in the video below will become eligible voters in 2018-2026 (when the members of the Silent generation will be aged from 73-88 in 2018 and 81-96 in 2026):

Sunday, August 31, 2014

When symbology means something completely different to you

I saw that one of my friends changed his Facebook profile pic to this:

The first thought that came into my head was, "Well, so, too, were the dodo and the passenger pigeon..."

The next was, "...and shouldn't it read, 'You are the result' - unless the message is for a 3rd person plurality, which is strange given how signs accompanied by messages to "you" are generally meant for the 2nd person...?"

My thoughts on grammar continued with, "...and shouldn't it be '... evolutionary successes...' since evolution is a process requiring consistent - and relatively constant - successes in mating and survival...? I know that the sign could mean to use success in the uncountable form, but that would be incongruous, given how "results" is used in its countable form."

My thoughts then strayed back to the implications of the wolf, given the message, and it was something like, "...and what's the point of using a wolf... a species that has been extirpated in much of its native range, and is - in many ways - a prime example of a species that, despite it being the culmination of billions of years of evolution, has until recently been going the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon?"

Maybe - as an ecologist with an evolutionary background and a great interest in grammar - I'm just thinking about this too much?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Apparently Russia and Canada can't agree on what belongs to Russia

NPR had a fun-with-maps story about how Canada's delegation to NATO tweeted the following map to show where Russia is (and isn't):
This was in response to Russia claiming that the Russian military convoys and vehicles that had entered Ukraine were just lost... or something similarly implausible.

However, look at the map that the Canadian delegation sent. It fails to label Kaliningrad as being part of Russia. By the way, here's a handy map showing you where Kaliningrad is:
Whoops! Apparently the GIS program that the Canadians were using didn't automatically include Kaliningrad as Russia. But the lack of recognizing Kaliningrad as part of Russia was apparently less important than showing that Crimea was Russian and that Abkhazia wasn't Georgian. This is the "corrected" map that Russia tweeted back to the Canadians:
(Never mind that almost the entire world doesn't recognize Abkhazia. Never mind that almost the entirety of the world doesn't recognize Russia's claim to Crimea, either.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mozart rap: Great advice for growing up

Wish I knew some of these things when I was a teen. Wish that I had followed up earlier on some of these things that I knew.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When People Do and Don't Listen to Scientists

I saw the following on a friend's Facebook wall:

This reminded me of a talk that was given by Dan Gilbert back in 2007. As I summarized when I wrote about this, this is because:
Four features global warming lacks:

A face: understanding what other people are doing is so crucial that our brain has developed an obsession about human agency. This is why we see faces in the clouds, but not clouds in peoples' faces. Global warming is not trying to kill us, and that's a shame.
A violation of moral suasion: Visceral emotions are aroused by things our brains have been concerned: food and sex. NOT atmospheric chemistry. Societies are built around who you can sleep with and what you can eat, and not about how much you can consume.
A threat to the present: The brain is an exquisitely designed "get-out-of-the-way" machine. Only recently has our brain been able to think about the future and take actions againt a future event, which is why we use dental floss and invest in 401k plans. However, global warming is still in the "R&D" version.
Ability to see absolute changes: Because we are so bad at perceiving changes gradually, we are more likely to tolerate it since it was a day-to-day gradual change, not an abrupt one.
 While global warming lacks these things, ebola has all of them.
A face: ebola is carried around by people.
A violation of moral suasion: There are many social hangups about the sick, and some people (and societies) explain one's sickness as an outcome of one's past moral choices.
A threat to the present: Over and over again, one of the most prominent things that is said about ebola in its description is it's high mortality rate: up to 90% mortality. That's a pretty immediate threat to the present.
Ability to see absolute changes: One day a person is well, the next day that person is sick, another day and that person is dead; very, very absolute changes.
 So, yeah, when people are talking about global warming, who cares about what the scientists are saying? (Because global warming doesn't punch the "reactionary buttons" that we have evolved.)

Conversely, when people are talking about ebola, who cares about what the scientists are saying? (Because ebola punches - and punches hard - all of the evolved "reactionary buttons" that we have.)

Here's the video of Dan Gilbert's 2007 talk:

Monday, July 28, 2014

The difference between "few" and "a few"

It's one of the things that many non-native speakers of English get wrong: the distinction between few and a few. For example, let's take the following pair of sentences:
At the start of the 2014 World Cup, there were few signs that the final would include Germany.
At the start of the 2014 World Cup, there were a few signs that the final would include Germany.
What's the difference? While most native English speakers would immediately recognize the difference, to many English-language learners that I have encountered in the past, there is no discernible distinction. This could get them into a bit of a pickle in writing.

The simple explanation of the difference is that few means "almost zero" and is generally of a negating connotation, while in contrast a few means "a small amount, but definitely not zero" and is generally of a positive/additive connotation. Therefore, the above sentences would mean something like:
At the start of the 2014 World Cup, there were almost no signs that the final would include Germany. (i.e., It was unimaginable that Germany would make it to the final.)
At the start of the 2014 World Cup, there were some signs that the final would include Germany. (i.e., It was possible to think that Germany would make it to the final.)
As to why this distinction exists, it's partly because few is an adjective, while a few is a noun.

As an adjective, it implies that the expected value is vanishingly small. Therefore, if we initially had a high expectation that Brazil would reach the finals, the possibility that it wouldn't was approaching zero.

In contrast, as a noun, it implies that the actual amount was more than zero. Therefore, if we initially had an expectation that Germany would fail to go to the finals, our perception of that possibility would have been that it was greater than zero.

In reality, the number in question (e.g., the number of signs that Brazil wouldn't reach the finals) could be known or determined. The difference is how you interpret that number. For example, if we stated that the odds for making the finals of the 2014 World Cup stated on July 5, 2014 were:
Odds for World Cup semi-finals:
Brazil wins 80.09 %
Germany wins 19.91 %
Argentina wins 61.60 %
Netherlands wins 38.40 % 
It means that - on July 5th - there was an expected 19.91% chance that Germany would win their semi-final match to enter the finals against the winner of Argentina vs. Netherlands. This is almost a 1-in-5 chance that they would make it. And here is the crux in how our interpretations of the same number would change the meaning of the sentence.

If we had interpreted that 1-in-5 as a vanishingly small chance, then we'd use, "...there were few signs that the final would include Germany."

However, if we had interpreted that 1-in-5 as a distinct (if small) possibility, we'd use, "...there were a few signs that the final would include Germany."

... and that's basically it. Simple, no?

One additional note: The meanings for few and a few remain consistent when the thing your talking about is stated as a negative. For example:
There were few signs of Brazil not reaching the final.
Here, the direct implication is, "There were almost no signs of Brazil not reaching the final." After doing the trick in English of transforming two negatives into a positive, we have the implicitly understood interpretation of this statement as something like, "There were many signs that Brazil would reach the final." The use of a few leads to a contrasting sentence, similar to the examples using Germany:
There were a few signs of Brazil not reaching the final.
Here, the direct implication is, "There were some signs of Brazil not reaching the final," which is almost the direct opposite of the implication of the previous statement.

So, in short:

  • If you want to emphasize the near-zero quantity of something, use few.
  • If you want to emphasize the not-at-all-zero quantity of something, use a few.

Addendum: Of course, there is also the use of the few. However, as with most uses of the to convert an adjective into a noun (e.g., the elderly, the hungry, the poor, the tired, the wealthy, the powerful, etc.), it is referring to a distinct and defined (either implicitly or explicitly) group, usually of people. Thus we understand the recruiting phrase used by the US Marine Corps, "The few, the proud, the Marines," as referring to an implicit exclusivity that is associated with the culture of the US Marine Corps. Similarly, given the interchangeability of pronouns for articles, we can understand the following use of we few from the St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
... and an excuse to post this lovely rendition of the St. Crispin's Day speech: