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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Saturday, September 24, 2005

"it's eugenics, plain and simple"

another rather interesting OSC article (thanks to Matt, as usual), this time on the relationship between abortion and decreased crime rates. lots of interesting stuff, a few (in my opinion) unfounded implications, a little bit of focusing on certain aspects while ignoring others, and (as always) a couple really brilliant points.

I'm surprised he didn't mention anything about the law of unintended consequences, especially with the foray into "Freakonomics," but I guess since it's more of a theory of unintended consequences, it doesn't need to be brought up.

from my perspective, this stuff has some really interesting implications on multiagent systems and emergence. from one perspective, you could have predicted that abortion would cause a drop in crime. but since no one is going to argue that we should kill unborn criminals, no one even thought along those lines. however, even if anyone had thought along those lines, would they have been able to predict the results? lots of predictions could have been made about what would happen and why. the "real" causality is only seen afterward, imposed by our minds' desire for rationality. we see causality when it really might be just correlation. once a system gets complex enough, the causal links become more and more difficult to follow. you can argue certain points, as OSC does here, and quite convincingly, but that doesn't mean you're right. he even says there's no way to prove it. it's a problem when you want to design a system for emergent properties. but I have to mull that one over before I give it a more thorough treatment.


  • I have a copy of Freakonomics if you want to borrow it.

    Also, I'm sorry but I just won't read OSC's column any more. Actually, I think I have a pretty good idea of what he said. bleah.

    First of all, it's not eugenics. It's providing people with the choice to terminate pregnancies when they know they can't raise the child. If it indicates anything, the drop in crime rates could be said to indicate that moms-to-be are pretty *good* at assessing their ability to raise a child right. They know damn well when they can't do it. I don't buy "eugenics" unless you start seeing abortion pushed on poor and/or black and/or uneducated women, and discouraged amongst white and/or rich and/or educated women. To the extent that anyone does this in real life, and to the extent that it impedes truly free choice, then it is a problem. Lately, I've seen William Bennett advocating just that, and he's a pretty serious social conservative and member of the Heritage Foundation. Isn't he supposed to be on Card's side? (http://www.bennettmornings.com/)

    Secondly, as much as you can do with observational data, the Freakonomics guy proves causality. The objections of pro-lifers sounded plausible until I actually read the book. Yes, the "observational data" caveat is an important one, etc, etc. BUT. Abortion became legal in NY earlier than everywhere else. And crime dropped in NY about the same amount earlier than everywhere else. Abortion became illegal in Romania. And 16 or 18 years later, the crime rate rose. If you want to get into philosophical arguments about the existence of causality at all, then hell yeah, let's get a bottle of wine and have at it, but the Freakonimist has done a good and rigorous job of showing causality according to the standards of observational statistics.

    By Anonymous metamanda, at Tuesday, October 04, 2005 5:53:00 PM  

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