It’s a contentious issue, but I can’t help feeling the powers that be have missed a trick with their immigration policies…

It’s bows and arrows against the lightning

They ‘aven’t seen that fire-beam yet…

Herbert George Wells, War of the Worlds

394934_10150749353871041_1787771566_nIn the Telegraph today, Douglas Carswell writes:

“For years, the debate about immigration has been dominated by “experts”.

“Complex and inaccessible data was used by remote academics. They crunched the numbers and were left to draw the conclusions. The rest of us had to take it on trust that the facts sustained what they told us.”

The Guardian’s Mary Dejevsky agrees somewhat and tells us [the] immigration debate is not just about numbers … We have to consider people’s daily experience too:

“[The] Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London, found arrivals from the European economic area (EEA) since 1995 to have been even more of an asset to the UK economy than previously thought. They had, it calculated, contributed £8.8bn over the 15 years between 1995 and 2011, and if you considered only the past 10 years, the balance was even more positive.”

However Steve Doughty from The Daily Mail, read the same report and interpreted it slightly differently, claiming that :

“Immigrants from outside Europe have taken £100billion more in benefits and services than they paid back in taxes, a major study revealed yesterday.

“Over a 16-year period, the bill to the taxpayer of providing them with welfare, health and education was 14 per cent higher than the money they put in the national purse.”

This is a problem— when our source material is provided by unimpeachable sources but the conclusions drawn from it are wildly disparate, I’m afraid either the nature of the data or the conclusions must be rendered as lacking validity. At least in a usable, practicable way. Studies ought to inform, not divide in such a binary manner.

This is not a new problem. In an article in Scientific American, Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise, Michael Shermer writes about the mechanisms that allow us to see such differences; it also alows us to see bunny rabbits in fluffy clouds— the same mechanism which results in ‘complex and inaccessible data’ being summarised and presented as fact, while ignoring that:

Unfortunately, we did not evolve a Baloney Detection Network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns.”

It is describing a form of apophenia: the ability we have to see what we want to see; or more simply, the ability to make sense when there is none.  In fact, the irony is, I too could be doing just that, but I’ll be describing how I perceive the opinion process in another post, I just wanted to get the Baloney Detection Network out there because I love it, just as much as Hemmingway’s bullshit detector. It’s more or less the same thing.

Anyway, no amount of numbers can alter the fact that immigration is simply someone moving from one place to another. So I ask you, simply

Why not just employ nightclub doormen as immigration officials?

Have you ever tried getting into a club if your name wasn’t on the list?

It’s just a thought…

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19 thoughts on “It’s a contentious issue, but I can’t help feeling the powers that be have missed a trick with their immigration policies…

  1. Olive J.

    As for your bullshit detector/baloney detection network – it is true that humans see patterns where there are none. Having done one statistics paper (one was more than enough), I now understand the numerical process of finding patterns and it depends on what standard deviation you accept as significant that creates the pattern or lack thereof. And also which pieces of data you compare. Those differing opinions you mentioned just took slightly different bits of data and calculated and came up with, in their opinion, a statistically significant standard deviation for them to say there is a pattern here.

    As for the real issue at hand, you are most probably right. Although I’ve never been to a nightclub, my guess is that your solution would work rather better than the current ones implemented in the various countries.

    Reply
    1. Just a Little Background Noise Post author

      What a wonderful comment. I did statistics as part of a psychology course, but in some ways I’m thankful that I’ve never had to use them in real life. I completely understand where you’re coming from. But what I don’t appreciate is that most people would not.

      I know far too many one source, one news-paper readers – I’m not judging – who should be guarenteed a certain truthfulness to their information. I know the adage about statistics, but there ought to be some kind of oversight, as to how these numbers are used. To go from 10 billion one way to a hundred billion the way isn’t a case of misinterpretation – these are not stupid people – is a failing of presentation. Not everyone has the time to check alternate sources. And even if they do, when reputable sources are so divided, it leaves the least informed of us in the worst possible place.

      My piece was more a criticism of the presentation of the ‘facts’ – who decides, what is their qualification, because someone is either incompetent or lying – and neither sit comfortably with me.

      Reply
      1. Olive J.

        I’ve heard that the entire world’s newspapers, DVDs and all the rest of their entertainment and media are all sourced from just six companies. New Zealand media has a reputation for being the most open and honest though which I very much appreciate. When I occasionally watch CNN or BBC, their slant on every story is actually quite blatant but people don’t see it because that’s what they’re used to watching.

        Yes, I do see what you mean. If each of the sources had presented all of the facts rather than just the ones that suited them, then the general public would be better informed. I often wonder where the statistics come from when we are not given the source material to judge it from for ourselves.

      2. Just a Little Background Noise Post author

        The problem I had with this story, was that the source material was the same for both stories – one of the top universities in the world. I just find it absurd that so wildly differrering conclusions can be drawn in order to inform us. Because it has quite the opposite effect.

        I think recognising bias in any form of print is an important skill to learn – it’s not something that is simply picked up over time, it’s at times too subtle. It’s a skill that should be taught in schools as part of an English curriculum, provided the teachers themselves have some background in it. It’s becoming more and more relevent with the availability of information. The skills to judge the validity of that information need to increase also, otherwise the disparity between what is being received and what is useful is also going to increase. And that’s no use to anyone.

      3. Olive J.

        It is absurd, agreed. And yes, judging the validity of information is a very good skill to learn. My father actually inadvertently taught me something about it when I was doing an assignment for biology in high school when he told me to search out the medical sites if I wanted accurate information on his profession. He said if I went anywhere else the facts might be skewed or just plain wrong. Other sites it tends to be all about the language used that sets a bias towards one point of view. Maybe it will be something I could teach as an English teacher one day… if I ever get my application in to teacher’s college on time.

      4. Just a Little Background Noise Post author

        That’s all part of the process: determining the relative merits of the source material… Your father’s a wise man. It seems obvious, but it never surprises me often such things are not taken into consideration…

        When is your application due?

      5. Olive J.

        I think the reason people don’t consider it is because they are looking for the easy answers… students, for example, always head for Wikipedia even when their teachers warn them off, because it seems like the easiest place to get information – they don’t care if it’s correct or not, they just want to pass an assignment. That same apathy (I think that’s the word) stays with them into adulthood and they do not think to verify their sources.

        My application is due as soon as I can get it done. I am currently waiting on my previous university grades to be finalised so that I can apply for the transcripts to add to my application pack. But my essay needs to be done before then and I don’t know what to write yet. I have about half and it has many repetitions and bad grammar but otherwise sounds ok. The main problem is that I ran out of ideas for what to write next.

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