In Which I Avoid a Trap Set By Nilu

Nilu says that I do not address a certain argument in favour of government schools. The argument has something to do with poor people having the vote. If that is supposed to mean that the poor can vote themselves better schools, Nilu should know that it is nonsense. One vote every five years is simply inadequate as an attention-getting tactic, when citizens have a hundred issues on which to draw their rulers’ attention. Presumably Nilu does know that, so he modifies the argument with something else that is still nonsensical.

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The Real Lesson of Kendriya Vidyalayas

A couple of years back, at a blog meet, I was having a discussion with Anand, who used to blog at locana. He was trying to defend government schools. His defence went: “Not all government schools are bad. I went to one myself. Ok, it was a government school at a campus that was filled with professors, but still…”

I sputtered a bit but never got a chance to complete my response in the din of the meet. This post at Nanopolitan reminded me of that conversation. This is as good a time as any for a response, I suppose.

People argue that private schools will serve only the rich and never provide the same quality to the poor. When faced with evidence that government schools also provide good quality only to the rich and neglect to serve the poor, their views undergo a fascinating inversion. The success of private schools for the rich is evidence that they will serve only the rich. The success of government schools for the rich is evidence that hope is on the way for the poor.  

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The Fallacy of the Fallacy of Division

Lekhni wants to know what was wrong with Falstaff referring to the the Fallacy of Division in his post.  Thinking through the Boeing 747 example in the Wikipedia article should make the problem clear.  Yes, the fact that a jet plane can fly across the Atlantic does not mean that its individual parts can fly independently across the Atlantic.  That is because while a jet plane is composed of its individual parts,  a part of a plane is not the plane.  While we can have interesting philosophical debates about how many parts one has to remove from a plane for it to cease being a plane, the point is that an engine of an aeroplane is not an aeroplane.

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Unclear on the Concept

None of this is to suggest, of course, that women are as a group, more likely to be concerned about women’s rights than men (or, in other words, the probability that a given individual will be sympathetic towards gender issues is higher if that individual is a woman). That, sadly, is still true. But one must guard against the fallacy of division that ascribes this property to every woman. That’s why the notion of the ‘first woman president’ is a largely meaningless one [1]. We have little or no reason to expect that a woman who is president will be, simply by the fact of being a woman, more responsive to gender issues than a man would be in her place [2]. (2x3x7)

One must also guard against the tendency to post Wikipedia links without actually reading them.

Good Really Old Days

This is Survivorship Bias week at The Examined Life.

Hunter-gatherers may have been so lithe and healthy because the weak were dead. The invention of agriculture and the advent of settled society merely swapped high mortality for high morbidity, allowing people some relief from chronic warfare so they could at least grind out an existence, rather than being ground out of existence altogether.

Notice a close parallel with the industrial revolution. When rural peasants swapped their hovels for the textile mills of Lancashire, did it feel like an improvement? The Dickensian view is that factories replaced a rural idyll with urban misery, poverty, pollution and illness. Factories were indeed miserable and the urban poor were overworked and underfed. But they had flocked to take the jobs in factories often to get away from the cold, muddy, starving rural hell of their birth.

That is from the Economist once again. Here is something I posted on my blog four years ago.

(A tip: The Christmas special issue of the Economist is always worth reading. Lots of interesting stuff. )

Survival Bias in Home Appliances

Dilip D’Souza documents his recent misfortunes in home appliances and implies, (but as is typical for him, never says) that the quality of appliances has declined since the glorious period of Nehruvian socialism. That reminds me of a discussion thread I was hanging around in a couple of months back when the bridge collapsed in Minnesota. I can’t be bothered to find the thread right now, but here is what I remember.

Someone on the thread had brought up the example of Roman bridges. Why is it that bridges built by the Romans are still standing, while bridges built in modern times collapse within two decades?

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