Pharyngula

In a surprising discovery, reading the Wall Street Journal opinion pages will make you 57% dumber, will kill 8,945,562,241 neurons, and will force you to invent ridiculous statistics. Don’t follow that link! The article will make you cry as you go through a Flowers for Algernon experience.

You could read it through the Echidne filter for a little protection (she’s a goddess, she was safe in reading it.) Arthur Brooks, billed as a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs, has written an incredibly stupid article, arguing that because Republican parents outbreed Democratic parents, their party will have a growing lock on government. The numbers, though, simply don’t make sense, nor does the logic. He first claims that there is a “fertility gap” of 41% between liberals and conservatives, and then in a fit of innumerate fervor, claims this will generate a rapid imbalance.

A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020–and all for no other reason than babies.

Hold it—an 8% difference in the voting population generated in eight years? By differential reproduction alone? That’s simply ludicrous, and I’d sure like to know what kind of calculations this professor made to estimate that. Net population growth in the US is about 0.6% per year, and even assuming every single person entering their majority joins the Republican party, you get less than a 5% difference in 8 years of growth. Fortunately, I don’t have to stretch my brain at all this morning: Steve Reuland has done the actual calculations for Ohio. Basically, all you need to know is that in a state with a population of 11 million, there’s a net gain of about 40,000 new individuals, which may be split with a small advantage to Republican households, but that’s going to be a small gain. There’s just no way it can add up to such a huge difference over a few years.

Also, Steve points out that migration is a bigger contributor to population changes, swamping out these birth differences. Need I point out as well that Republicanism and Democratic party membership are not fixed genetic properties? Brooks mentions that about 80% of the people vote the same way as their parents (given the quality of his understanding of statistics, though, I view that number with a jaundiced eye), but doesn’t seem to understand that that 20% that differ is a greater factor than the small difference in reproductive rate. Well, not the rate that he claims, but those numbers are screwy.

I also have doubts about his base statistics that argue for this amazing Republican fecundity. Shouldn’t these basic demographic facts make you wonder about his estimates?

Higher fertility has been a major source of population growth among minority groups. Hispanics have the highest fertility rate of any U.S. minority, with the average Hispanic woman giving birth to three children in her lifetime. The African-American fertility rate is 2.2 lifetime births per woman. Non-Hispanic whites have the lowest fertility rate of 1.8, about 14 percent below the “replacement rate” of 2.1.

Last I looked, the Republican party does not have a significant minority component. However, I am not going to make the stupid mistake that Brooks does, and assume that these unhatched chickens are all going to flock to the party of my choice