Michael Klein

... concerned with and about science

Homepage: http://sciencefiles.wordpress.com

Appointment of a Research Director – Michael Klein

Appointment of a Research Director – Michael Klein.

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The dawn of totalitarianism

German politicians – especially female politicians – rally to increase the share of women in corporate boards. However, this does not mean that they put forward an initiative or some kind of incentives for women to get themselves more prepared and more willing to reach top-level jobs. No. German politicians do what they think they do best, they regulate, they tell others how to behave and especially how not to behave. And with every regulation, German politicians strangle individual freedom a bit more. Mind, all this is done for equality’s sake (not equity)- at least this is what they tell you.

The German minister for quite a lot of things actually, that is for women, youth, family and elderly (maybe I got the wrong order), Ms. Schroeder, plans to tell corporations how to man their boards, i.e. how to woman their boards: Mrs Schroeder wants to see more women in corporate boards – regardless of past merits. (I would like to see myself in more boards, maybe I should apply for a quote?) Accordingly, German corporations will be subjected to a law: If they fail to meet a certain share of women in their board a fee of 25.000 Euros will be due. In other words, state regulation, not shareholders will have a say on board composition. Shareholders simply get stripped of one of their rights, namely to determine board composition.

Forget about effort and performance, forget about all the tons of papers written about the best way to recruit skillful CEOs or skillful board members (and about how to overcome problems like moral hazard, once they are installed in their position). That’s history. From now on, biology will do the trick. Get women in the board and all is fine. This mantra rules the campaign for more women in corporate boards or in leading positions as the EU dubs it. Biology, or the biological imperative that a sizeable share of women in corporate boards improve profits is the new racism of our times (- and it violates individual rights, the rights of men, because they can try as hard as they like, they won’t climb the ladder because they have the wrong gender, the rights of women because once they form a part of corporate boards, nobody will attribute this “success” to effort, performance, knowledge or any other individual feature) .

The campaign to bring more women with their snout in the corporate trough is a religious crusade. There is not a single reason given as to why more women in corporate boards is an improvement. There is not a single shred of evidence that boards with a considerable share of women make higher profits nor is any other reason than “equality” given. Equality is a religious dogma and anyone who dares to question the dogma, asking for reasons and benefits, will be treated as a heretic. Accordingly, another German minister, Mrs von der Leyen, threatens to publicly denounce corporations that do not fill their boards with numbers of women deemed suitable by the very minister. So we’re back to the dark ages and it won’t take long before to criticize German politicians and question their approach will end with the critic being burned at the stake. Whether the burning at the stake is literally or metaphorically, time will tell, history, however, suggests the former.

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Transcendent or down to Earth? A funny tale

The following piece swept into my mailbox. It’s funny and I hope, you’ll enjoy reading it. Unfortunately, I do not know, who wrote that piece, hence I devote it to “anonymous”.

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Muslims had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy.
There was a huge outcry from the Muslim community, so  the Pope offered a deal.

He’d have a religious debate with the leader of  the Muslim community. If the Muslims won, they could stay in Italy; and if the Pope won, they’d have to convert or leave.

The Muslim people met and picked an aged and wise Moulana to represent them in the debate.

However, as the Moulana spoke no Italian, and  the Pope spoke no Urdu, they agreed that it would be a “silent”  debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Moulana sat  opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.

The Moulana looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waived his finger around his head.

The Moulana pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.

The Moulana pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten and said that the Moulana was too clever.

The Muslims could stay in Italy.

Later the cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened.

The Pope said, “First I held up three fingers to  represent the Trinity.

He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only ONE GOD!!!

“Then, I waved my finger around my head to show him that GOD is all around us.

He responded by pointing to the ground to show that GOD is also right here with us.

“I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that GOD absolves us of all our sins.

He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin.

“He beat me at every move and I could not continue!!!”

Meanwhile, the Muslim community gathered to ask the Moulana how he’d won.

“I haven’t a clue,” the Moulana said.

“First, he told me that we have three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger”

“Then he waved 3 fingers telling me that the whole country will be cleared of Muslims, and I told him that we are staying right here!”

“And then what?” asked a woman.

“Who knows?” said the Moulana. “He took out his lunch so I took out mine. And then he walked away!”

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Part-time CEO

The European Union is lobbying hard for gender equality in boardrooms. The target is, equal shares or at least a considerable increase of women in “responsible” or “top positions”. In this vein, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner delivered a rather tell tale speech at ECBs headquarters in Frankfurt. The speech was about “The European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy”, though, arguably you could say that the ECB should have more pressing issues to address than gender equality in boardrooms.

Nevertheless, Reding gave that speech and said, amongst other things the following: “The topic of gender balance in boardrooms is high on the agenda at the ECB and the European Commission”. This elevated position of the boardroom gender balance issue originates from the observation that women, though they make-up 60% of university graduates in the EU (which – by the way – should be a worrying sign, given that Ms Reading is responsible for “gender equality”, however, the advantage in this case seems to be the wrong way around), they lack when boardroom composition is scrutinized. “Women represent roughly 1 out of 10 board members of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU”. This, so Mrs. Reding, needs improvement. But how? Well, Vice-President Reding is not in favour of quotas, however, her not-in-favour-statement is followed by a number of examples that show how well a quote worked for Sweden, Spain and other European countries. Stubbornly standing ground against her own line of argument, Mrs. Reding is in favour of voluntary action. (Big) companies should make a “Women in Boardroom Pledge”. However, in March 2012, Mrs. Reading will see “which and how many companies have signed up to the “Women in Boardroom Pledge”. Supposedly, if the number of companies fails to satisfy Mrs. Reading, she will swap the carrot for the stick.

Before doing so, however, it would be rather advisable to take counsel with those, the female Vice-President is lobbying for: Women.

In 1995, Catherine Hakim published an article in the “British Journal of Sociology” titled: “Five Feminist Myths about Women’s Employment” . Amongst other things she showed:

  • Female employment-rates are stable since 1851;
  • Women favour more traditional role models than men. Especially women working part-time prefer part-time work or no work at all: „In effect, the adult female population divides into two fairly equal sectors. The first group of women are committed to careers in the labour market and therefore invest in training and qualifications, and generally achieve higher grade occupations and higher paid jobs, which they pursue full-time for the most part. The second group of women give priority to the marriage career, do not invest in what economists term ‘human capital’, transfer quickly and permanently to part-time work as soon as a breadwinner husband permits it, choose undemanding jobs ‘with no worries or responsibilities’ when they do work, and are hence found concentrated in lower grade and lower paid jobs which offer convenient working hours with which they are perfectly happy“ (Hakim, 1995, S.434).
  • Child care does not prevent women from participating in the labour force, rather child care is the result of a decision taken by women in order to either resort to part-time work or to abandon work altogether.

As Hakim’s results show, a sizeable group of women does not want to work full-time (or at all). Contrary to men, women can exit the labour market and retire to child care. Hence, if Vice-President Reding’s intention is not to establish part-time CEOs, she would be well advised by taking her clients interests into account .

Reference

Hakim, Catherine (1995). Five Feminist Myths about Women’s Employment. British Journal of Sociology 46(3): 429-455.

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It never rains in Southern California

Sometimes you come across scientific papers that leave you in a cloud of amazement. While reading the paper you go through a particular kind of transformation which leads you from “do they mean that serious?” to “they do mean it serious!”. Stephen Haber and Victor Menaldo wrote such a paper titled “Rainfall, Human Capital, and Democracy”.

Moderate amounts of rainfall, the authors claim, have stable democracy in their tow, however, it has to be not less than 550mm per year and not more than 1300mm. Immediately, you start to ask, what the heck should connect rainfall to democracy? Haber and Menaldo provide the answer. They have a theory and it goes like that: Moderate levels of rainfall enable cultivation of storable crops and legumes, storable crops and legumes enable economies of scale, trade in crops and legumes and accumulation of wealth. Wealth can be invested in accumulation of human capital. Intelligent people, people high in human capital that is, are able to control their government more efficiently than people low in human capital are, hence, democracy settles in. Don’t believe it? Here’s the original: “Rather, we are saying that a society made up of grain-growing family farmers is likely to have gone down a path of development that produced a high level and a broad distribution of human capital. When democratization happens in such a society, for whatever reasons, it is likely to stick because a broad swathe of citizens will have the knowledge and sophistication to enforce their rights and hold politicians accountable” (21).

Don’t object to that reasoning by pointing at Nazi Germany or ancient democracy in the dry country of the Greek, it won’t do. The theory, developed by Haber and Menaldo is one of short-range. It is designed to only apply to the world after the II. World War. Before, rainfall seems to be in no connection at all to the regime of government, hence, you can’t blame too much or too less rain for fascism or authoritarian systems. Also, skip the obvious critique that it is quite odd to place the nucleus of democratic development in farmer families given, e.g., that most if not all democratic movement started in big cities, where farmers are not that common. Anyway, let’s overlook that and concentrate on the way, Haber and Menaldo try to prove their claim, let’s look at the methodology and the measurement.

Haber and Menaldo’s model mainly draws on three variables,

  • A polity-score for all countries spanning the period from 1965 to 2009 and telling you the level of democracy for which a particular country qualifies;
  • Annual average precipitation within 100 miles of a country’s largest city;
  • Human capital measured as newspaper circulation per capita in 1965;

Well. Results are not too surprising, democracy flourishes most with moderate rainfall and high newspaper circulation.

Since I first looked at the way, Haber and Menaldo operationalized their “theory”, I wondered about a lot of things. E.g., what would happen if precipitation is measured within a range of 10 miles of a country’s largest city? What impact do decreasing newspaper circulations have on democracy? Not to think about artificial irrigation, is it the best way to spread democracy? And, if you want to spread democracy in, say, Afghanistan, will the export of a number of family farmers to Afghanistan do the job? Questions over questions…

On page 4 of their paper, Haber and Menaldo come close to realize that maybe their research does rely on too much assumptions that are far-fetched and cannot be proven when they write: “Moderate levels of rainfall tend to generate societies with social structures that are conductive to the consolidation of democracy: they do not guarantee that every country with a moderate level of rainfall will be democratic”. However, what’s correct in one direction, must be correct in the other direction as well. Hence, absence of moderate levels of rainfall does not guarantee that every country with more or less than moderate rainfall will turn out to be autocratic, non-democratic that is. However, this renders the entire paper meaningless. Science is about making firm connections, stating that if A is given B will follow. To say that if A is given B might or might not follow, isn’t a scientific statement, it is a tautology. There is no place for tautologies in science.

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The tale of the Gender pay gap: can the EU put anything over on you?

I bet, you heard something about the Gender pay gap recently. The Gender pay gap is what keeps EU do-gooders busy . It “reflects ongoing discrimination and inequalities in the labour market, which, in practice, mainly affect women”. You can read this sermon on the internet, on a page devoted entirely to the Gender pay gap. The Gender pay gap, the same site informs you is either caused by direct discrimination, by an under-evaluation of women’s work, by traditions and stereotypes or by women’s difficulties when it comes to balancing work and private life. The Gender pay gap is measurable, it is measured as the relative difference in the gross hourly earnings of women an men within the economy as a whole. EUROSTAT, the statistical agency of the European Union devotes five bullet points to the different versions of the Gender pay gap. Here you can learn that the Gender pay gap in the UK is 21.4%, while in Germany it is 23.2%.

So let’s digest this for a while.

To get things straight, what the Gender pay gap says is that male workers across the UK (or Germany, for that instance) have on average 21.4% (23.2% in Germany) higher hourly wages than female workers. This is the Gender pay gap. Doesn’t that strike you odd? Certainly there is an education pay gap as well because across the UK well educated workers earn more than less educated workers. Ever seen an EU official fight for unskilled workers being paid the same wages than skilled workers are paid? Certainly not, would affect themselves so they shy away from it. However, the logic is the same.

So for the records: They declare a Gender pay gap without any reference to differences in skill, occupation, education, human capital and so forth and, they not even control for working time. So let’s do just that and use data collected by EUROSTAT.

The same agency that spreads the fairy tale of the Gender pay gap, hosts data for average working hours per week. Extract the data and you find that men in the UK work on average 42 hours a week, while women work 31.2 hours a week. The working time gap between male and female workers is 34.6%, i.e. it is even greater than the Gender pay gap. In other words, though men in the UK work on average 34.6% more than women, they are only paid 21.4% more. If there is discrimination in the labour market, discrimination works against men, because on average they have to work longer hours to get the same wages. Another nail in the coffin of the Gender pay gap myth is provided by overtime work. 16.2% of the UK’s male workers are required to work overtime, while only 9% of female workers are. Again you would expect that to find expression in the average pay men get and you would expect the longer hours, men work overtime to increase their wages relative to womens’.

Two simple scraps of data suffice to unveil the entire Gender pay gap saga as nonsense. Nevertheless, the EU (and not only the EU) employes a number of mountebanks who make a living by spreading claims proven to be wrong. So either those who staff the EU’s Gender pay gap lobby are dumb, unwilling or incapable to make the easiest of connections between data or they are on a crusade and want others to believe in a lie, because they profit from others believing the lie (through their wages). Though I have my suspicion I leave it to you to decide.

P.S.

Figures for Germany are comparable to the UK. German men work 38.7 hours on a weekly average, while women work on average 30.4 hours per week. The working time gap between German men and women amounts to men working 27.6% longer than women. On average 5.2% or German men are required to work overtime, while this accounts only for 2.4 of the female labour force.

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Warning!

Warnings are everywhere.

You start your car. Warning lights flash, because it’s three degrees and there is risk of ice. You drive and a warning sound tells you, that you’re running short of petrol. Your postman delivers a parcel. Lucky you, your order from Savile Row, but mind, packaging is plastic, danger to suffocate! So you want to have a break, a chocolate break, “cannot guarantee nut free”, it says. So let’s have a sip of water. No, danger looms, be careful when opening, because container is under pressure. So, what about something to eat? Something, low in calories, low in carbohydrates and low in cholesterol, of course, no, that won’t do, my stove uses gas and my pullover say’s “keep away from fire”. That leaves starvation or cookies as alternatives.

Sometimes, I wonder how I even manage to leave my house. I have to put on my shoes without strangling myself with shoelaces. I have to open the door, without hitting my head and I have to meet the opening without smashing my head against the doorframe…

Warnings are everywhere.

They are considered a pinnacle of modern development. They are here to root out human error. But I think what they accomplish is the exact opposite. The more you are subjected to warnings, the less you will give them any notice. You will simply ignore them, or not perceive them anymore. Something always makes a sound in my car. A beep because petrol is low, a beep because there’s a risk of ice, a beep because the EPS is faulty, a beep because the trunk is open, a beep because, … oh I don’t care! The same applies to warnings on packaging, I don’t care if I’m expected to use a non-metal spoon to stir my coffee and I don’t care whether “this side is up”. You just leave me alone.

However, warning-overflow sometimes causes serious damage, as with the Turkish Airliner that crashed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Obviously, the crew got fed-up with a warning sound that occurred quite regularly and in the end, they crashed. Warnings, so the conclusion goes, should be administered in a rather tempered way, too much warning will damage your awareness and even make you disregard the warning. Too much warning can seriously damage your health, which means: It’s time to take a measured approach to warnings.

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German Tax Stalkers

In the early 1970s the Laffer-curve emerged as a new form to describe the relationship between a tax rate on the one hand and tax revenues generated by government on the other. Arthur Laffer argued that in some cases, a reduction in tax rate can trigger an increase in tax revenue, while an increase can trigger a reduction in tax revenue. Individuals’ effort, Laffer argued, will be affected by the tax rate. The less of their profits remain, the less effort individuals will put into work leading to an overall decrease in tax revenues. Other researchers assembled a number of factors that influence people’s willingness to pay taxes or their inclination to evade taxes. Attitudes towards the government, perceived fairness of taxes and attitudes towards basic religious and cultural development are amongst these variables (Frey, 1989; Sandmo, 1976).

As usual, when it comes to scientific results, German authorities seem bare of any kind of knowledge. It’s because they don’t need this knowledge! Take members of German tax authorities, to these people talking of people’s willingness to pay taxes is preposterous. German people are obliged to pay taxes. It’s their lifelong duty. That’s what they are here for. It is not that people give some of their individual rights to authorities and allow them to act on their behalf, it is German authorities who allow German people to feel free in certain areas as a concession to what is deemed democratic rights in other countries.

However, individual freedom ends where authorities’ deem necessary. Therefore, it is quite suitable that Germans are seen as property by their authorities. As such they do not require respect, they do not require politeness, all that’s needed is for German citizens to comply to §§88, 90 Abgabenordnung or some other code of law. The funny thing is, that German authorities are staffed with “real” German people so you would think they will act as citizens in the first and as representatives of the authorities in the second place. But it’s the opposite. When employed by a German authority, German’s transform from being citizens to government rubber stamps and they take pride in that. Hans Ordinary becomes Hans the sleuth who detects a tax evasion in every tax return that crosses his desk. And he is quite eager to do so.

Build on a vast number of Hanses and the fact that German authorities think they have “their” citizens at lifelong disposal, interactions between tax authorities and tax payers deteriorate. Tax payer and taxman confront each other like soldiers in the Great War, in entrenched positions. The rude tone present in tax authority letters as well as the huge number of people bringing their funds to Switzerland and other save heavens give ample evidence of this. Not at any single point in time, German tax authorities let alone German Ministers of Finance got the idea that people’s obvious unwillingness to pay taxes might be a function of the way they are treated or of the amount of money they are left with after Government’s taxation hit them. It’s, as I said, your legal duty to pay taxes, you cannot escape this duty nor can you at any point in your life escape the ever-present suspicion that you evade taxes.

And so it comes that after living for 5 years in Britain, after paying taxes in Britain for the same period your German tax authority will remember you as one who has been squeezed in the past and one who should be targeted again. The result is the usual rude letter send to a (still) German citizen (German property that is) by the very same tax authority that in ancient times fought with the respective tax payer over such interesting questions as: Is the office in his house to be accessed only by a separate door or is there a chance to leave the sitting room via its window, move along a balcony and enter the very office by its French door, which would result in the office-expenses not to be considered as deductible expenses? The result is a certain feeling of being targeted by tax stalkers on my side and I start to wonder, whether the European Court of Human Rights should not rather sooner than later look into the way, German authorities think they can treat their citizens.

References:

  1. Frey, Bruno S. (1989). How Large (or Small) Should the Underground Economy Be? In: Feige, Edgar L. (ed.). Underground Economies. Tax Evasion and Information Distortion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.111-128.
  2. Sandmo, Agnar (1976). Optimal Taxation. An Introduction to the Literature. Journal of Public Economics 6(1): 37-54.

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Cancerous information

A short while ago Ben Goldacre asked Why don’t journalists link to primary sources?” when they report about scientific research.

I will add to this question by asking, why don’t journalists report the real results but always seem to bend them?

Today, while brushing my teeth I learned that my life is in grave danger. Why, because often I work more than 11 hours a day. According to the chap who read the news, more than 11 hours of work a day would increase my risk of coronary heart disease. Wow, time to change your life! Start working part-time…

The news spread like malignant cancer.

Sky reported “Long office hours raise heart disease risk, UK study finds”.

ABC was more concrete: “Study Links Long Working Hours to 67 Percent Hike in Risk of Cardiovascular Problems”.

The Press Association was a bit more lavish and blamed “Long hours” for an “increase” of “heart risks” .

While The Los Angeles Times warned that “Working longer hours may make the boss happy, but it could take a toll on your heart” .

Though all journalists have the same study in mind their assessment of what the results of this particular study are, differ quite considerably.

The respective study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, by Mika Kivimäki and nine co-authors and it is titled: “Using Additional Information on Working Hours to Predict Coronary Heart Disease (CDH). A Cohort Study.” The adjective “additional” is the important thing here. It says, there is something else present, apart from working hours. The authors included long working hours in a model to predict prevalence of CHD. Already in the model, we find other factors that increase the risk of CHD, like “age, sex, total cholesterol levels, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, systolic blood pressure, and smoking habits” (p.458).

Say these latter mentioned variables form the base model to predict a person’s risk of falling victim to CHD over the next 10 years, would this person furthermore work more than 11 hours a day, the risk he already faces would improve by a further 4,7% percent. Thus , an accurate interpretation of the study’s results means that people who are male, above a certain threshold in age, above a certain total cholesterol level, and a certain density of lipoprotein cholesterol levels and who have a high blood pressure and smoke run an 4.7% increased risk of getting CHD when working for more than 11 hours.

So, no need to start working part-time unless you are a, high blood pressured smoking male, who is high lipoprotein dense, rather old and high on cholesterol.

Maybe journalist should start reading articles rather than abstracts or, as Ben Goldacre proposed, they should link to primary source, like that:

Kivimäki, Mika et al. (2011). Using Additional Information on Working Hours to Predict Coronary Heart Disease. A Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine 154(4): 457-463.

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Sterile Worlds

Sky did apologize, because Wayne Rooney spoke in foul language right in front of the camera. This is not supposed to happen. TV-worlds aren’t like that. TV world’s show only the best of man’s behaviour. Certainly, they don’t show a “role model” like Wayne Rooney using expletives. But reality sometimes defies ideology and so it happened: Foul language, completely audible, in front of a camera, transmitted throughout the world, beyond believe.

Or isn’t it? Sometimes I wonder why some of these people who populate e.g., broadcaster’s facilities, think they must correct reality, beep-out for instance the swearwords everybody knows. It’s a part of the real life to express emotions. But in official broadcasted life, it seems that real life is only present in its cleansed version: Show (com-)passion without being (com-)passionate. Show your compassion in a politically correct way, e.g., by weeping your eyes out for someone you never met in your entire life, but whose death leaves you utterly devastated. Three C’s, as Theodore Dalrymple put it, rule this world imagined: “compassion, caring and crying in public”.

Correct utterance of compassion is a compassion imagined, it is in the words of Patrick West “projecting one’s ego, and informing others what a deeply caring individual you are. It is about feeling good, not doing good” (West, 2004, p.1). It is no compassion at all. It’s a substitute for compassion, because compassion needs doing something, something you can be compassionate about. Real emotions, especially if they are passionate not compassionate, are not for public display and, therefore, broadcasters flock around like chicken, when confronted with the real thing. Original and substitute won’t fit. So you have to denounce the original in order to retain the substitute.

As to me, I do not want to inhabit this surrogate world where passion is only present in peoples’ imagination. I prefer Rooney’s outburst to the hysterics of people who want you to believe that they deeply bemoan the fatal consequences of children’s witnessing Rooney’s foul language or the loss of Patient X in Ward 12.

References

West, Patrick (2004). Conspicuous Compassion. Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind. London: Civitas.

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