Archive for June, 2011

Magnetic Madness

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:00 am by rabbitpirate

Recently my Dad was diagnosed as having arthritis in his knees. Now I should say right from the beginning that I am skeptical even of this, given that the diagnosis apparently just involved my Dad telling the GP that his knees still hurt after a fall he had a few weeks ago, the GP looking at my Dad’s trousers for a few seconds (he never so much as asked him to roll up his trouser leg) and then noting the fact that my Dad is over 60 and so concluding that the pain is therefore the result of arthritic knees. But I am not going to focus on this aspect of the story as it is what happened next that really got my skeptical juices flowing.

 

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Taxation as investment

Aught3
Aught3
Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:27 am by Aught3

Okay let’s face it, nobody really likes paying taxes. Taxes mean goods and services cost more and we see less in our pocket at the end of the day. But rather than viewing taxes as a negative, we should view them as a positive investment in the current and future state of our country. While savings and investments can hurt us in the short term, over a longer period of time they bring us many positive and important benefits.

Let’s start with an easy one: excise taxes. These are taxes on specific goods usually with the aim of discouraging use. They help overcome the problem of market failure caused by negative externalities. One example is petrol. When a buyer and seller agree to a price for this good they are taking into account the personal cost and benefit of exchanging a certain volume of fuel for a certain price. What they are not taking into account is their negative impacts of the rest of society. Using more petrol means the buyer and seller are contributing to pollution, global warming, traffic congestion, and negative health effects like higher asthma rates. By leveling an excise tax, the government makes sure more transaction costs are paid for and not passed on to unwilling third parties, including future generations. Even better, the government can take this revenue stream and use it to help mitigate the effect of excise taxes of poor citizens and to start developing alternatives so the negative consequences of the market are eliminated entirely.

So what about property taxes? This will depend on your view of property rights. I find it rather difficult to believe in absolute property rights because I do not see how a legitimate ownership assertion can be made over a non-owned resource in the first place. If the original ownership claim is illegitimate then any sale or inheritance of that resource is insufficient to continue asserting absolute ownership. On the other hand, it would very be difficult to run a functional economy without the convenient fiction of property rights. These rights allow stability and development, taking them away completely would allow resources to change hands so many times that nothing could get done. But the cost of allowing these property rights has to be paid by the people who gain the advantages. Property taxes are the compensation owed to the wider community who are giving up their claim to your resources in order to allow you to benefit. These taxes can then be used to support others who missed out on the appropriation of resources or to develop public property such as roads and parks that benefit everyone who wishes to use them.

Finally, income taxes. Wealth is not earned in a vacuum; it is instead the result of a well developed and functioning society. Taxes pay for education, health services, transport networks, safety inspections, police, fire-fighters, and the justice system – all the things that keep a modern nation a vibrant place to do business. An income tax is a fundamental part of this system allowing the provision of all these services – it is the cost of earning a living in this type of society. If you are not paying for the services you use, then you are not doing your fair share. Income taxes are not imposed, but are agreed as part of taking on employment. They are part of your employment agreement and, as everyone knows a priori income will be taxed, there’s no excuse for calling it coercion. Further, income taxes can be made highly progressive helping to increase equality within a society. Benefits can even be given to those with low pay packets boosting their incomes. With higher wage equality comes higher levels of employment and a sustained demand for goods and services in what is called ‘wage-led growth’. This is the Scandinavian model of development and has proven itself to be one of the fairest ways to organise a growing economy while maintaining a healthy, happy population.

The results of a sensible tax investment can be seen in more efficient markets that take account of externalities, as compensation for allowing some unequal access to resources, and producing a vibrant and egalitarian economy with a happy population. I for one am happy to invest in this kind of future.

The Dawkins/PZ Protest, 9/6/11

Th1sWasATriumph
Th1sWasATriumph
Fri Jun 10, 2011 4:54 pm by Th1sWasATriumph

Been a while, ain’t it?

AndromedasWake and I attended a conversation between Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers yesterday. Well, we tried. But we were slightly obstructed by the protesters who forcibly entered the theatre and then hippied up the whole damn shooting match.

Protesters? Oh, yes. You may count upon it.

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Religion and support for torture

Aught3
Aught3
Tue Jun 07, 2011 11:01 am by Aught3

An interesting paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin details the conflicting influences of religion on support for torture. The researchers tested several possible relationships between these two factors including the influence of other variables such as education level and political conservatism. I found the results fairly surprising, let me know what you think.

The data collected was from two surveys taken in 2004 and 2008 asking 983 and 1,893 people respectively. The first effect looked at was the direct relationship between religion and support for torure. The researchers found a negative correlation on this point. That is, a religious person was less likely – on average – to support torture. This was described as an organic influence, something about the precepts of religion and opposition to torture were simultaneously appealing to the survey respondents.

However, the authors had also expected a discursive influence of religion and torture because of the popular view that religion and conservative politics ‘go together’ in the US and conservative politics lead to support for torture. When they separated out the progressive and conservative respondents, the moderating impact of religion was overwhelmed and a strong positive relationship between religion and support for torture was observed. A discursive relationship is one that arises through common perception, such as an ideological framework. Compare this to an organic relationship caused by innate features which people may not be consciously aware of. To show the three part relationship between religiosity, conservatism, and torture the researchers looked at one final factor: education level.

The authors of this study reasoned that conservatives with higher education levels would hold more consistent political views. Those with less education would be more likely to follow the common, organic, threads even if they were inconsistent with their stated political position. The data were consistent with this hypothesis showing conservative religious people who were highly educated were even more likely to support torture. So there we are, being religious is negatively correlated with supporting torture but being educated and politically engaged is positively correlated with it, at least if you are a conservative.

 

Malka and Soto (2011) The Conflicting Influences of Religiosity on Attitude Toward Torture. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

tp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=The%20Conflicting%20Influences%20of%20Religiosity%20on%20Attitude%20Toward%20Torture

Science vs religion: the effect of education

Aught3
Aught3
Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:02 am by Aught3

A new sociological study of UCLA undergraduate students has been getting some play in the sceptical blogosphere. Since it relates to some previous blog posts I have written on the LoR I thought I would go through it. Basically, a UCLA organisation called the Spirituality in Higher Education Project (SHEP)1 surveyed the religious opinions of the first-year population on campus. They then followed up with another survey of juniors to identify opinions influenced by several years of higher eduction. The study in question (Scheitle, 2011) focuses on the students’ perception of the relationship between religion and science.

Students could choose between four options to describe their view on this relationship.

  1. Conflict – I consider myself on the side of religion
  2. Conflict – I consider myself on the side of science
  3. Independence – they refer to different aspects of reality
  4. Collaboration – each can be used to help support the other

Categories three and four were lumped together into a ‘non-conflict’ answer.

Of this sample 83% of the students were religious. Unsurprisingly then, this means that 86% of the respondents went with non-conflict (69%) or sided with religion (17%). That leaves 17% non-religious students, 14% of whom sided exclusively with science. Given the large proportion of Christians in the US and that most are not of the fundamental variety, meaning they will have their science and eat it too, this seems a fairly straight-forward result.

Interestingly by their junior year, 73% of those who had originally sided with religion had come to adopt a non-conflict or pro-science position. This shift perhaps reflects the secularising effect of education. However, 47% of those who had originally picked science had also shifted their position. Not as large of a percentage of those who changed from a pro-religion stand-point but a substantial proportion of students. Even when the researcher looked into the data for only science students, the moderating effect of education was still present. Apparently, learning more about science decreased the view that science and religion were in conflict.

What I would have liked to be able to look at is the detailed data for both the independence and collaboration viewpoints instead of having them lumped together in a single category. If it’s correct that more education promotes a more secular viewpoint I would expect to see the ‘independence’ category increase. Whereas if education was actually supporting religion, I would expect to see a growth in the number of students picking ‘collaboration’. With the data in their current form, it’s impossible to make such judgements.

 

  1. SHEP is funded by the Templeton foundation; any true sceptics will now hum the Jaws theme.

Scheitle, C. P. (2011) U.S. College Students’ Perception of Religion and Science: Conflict, Collaboration, or Independence? A Research Note. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(1), 175-186.

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