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The Bell Curve/People Are The Problem

Discussion in 'The Pub' at netrider.net.au started by Bravus, Jun 23, 2008.

  1. Thought I'd share today's post from my blog here. Some will find it interesting, some infuriating - which is kinda the point!

    The Bell Curve/People Are The Problem

    Been thinking about issues like stereotyping recently, in all sorts of contexts. One was a thread on a bike forum about which kinds of cars were most dangerous to riders - the Toyota Camry scored pretty high, but almost every other category of vehicle was also named at some point. But people seemed to be missing the glaringly obvious common factor: all the most dangerous cars were being controlled by humans! Humans are the problem!

    The same is true for almost anything, from war-mongering to child abuse on the one hand to genius and saintliness on the other. The bottom line, for me, is that pretty much any human characteristic can be placed on the famous bell-shaped curve:


    As you can see, the majority of people fit into the middle category, less than one standard deviation away from the mean. For IQ, for example, the mean is 100 and one standard deviation is 15, so almost 70% of people have IQs somewhere between 85 and 115. The next band out is two standard deviations, and shows that over 95% of all people have IQs between 70 and 130. And so on.

    What I’m claiming is that it’s not just IQ, it’s everything. It includes good and evil - most people are in the middle, and only a few are extremely evil or extremely good.

    My key point here, though, is that this is true across various people groups too[1]. So each race will have its very bright and very stupid, its very good and its very evil, its thoughtful and careful drivers and its dangerous and careless ones. The same is true of every other group of people, including religions - there, too, there will be a spread from very good to very evil. This approach answers a conundrum I’ve discussed here before, about why stats on divorce, child abuse and a whole range of other measures are no different for religious believers than for the population as a whole.

    So here’s how stereotyping works: as humans we will tend to find patterns, whether they are there or not. And this pattern-recognition activity is made easier if there is some visible characteristic to pin it to.

    So, for example, if I have decided Toyota Camrys are dangerous, or been told so, and someone in a Toyota Camry does something dangerous, I’ll consider that to be supporting evidence for the stereotype. If someone in any other kind of car does it, I’ll just consider it to be the fault of the driver. More insidiously, if I see an Asian driver do something dangerous, I’ll identify dangerous driving as a characteristic of Asian drivers, whereas if I see a ‘white’ (for want of a better term) driver do something dangerous I’ll just assume it’s that individual. Stereotyping tends to happen to the groups of which we’re *not* members - if a member of our own group does something we don’t like, we ascribe it to the individual.

    If we can recognise that in every group there is a wide range of individuals, and if we can ascribe the bad (and good) behaviour to the individuals rather than the group, we’ll have taken one huge step away from racism and prejudice and sectarian fighting and toward recognising our common humanity with everyone else on the planet.

    [1] Unless a group is specifically selected for a particular characteristic already, of course. There’s probably not a bell-shaped curve for intelligence among Nobel Prize winners, for example - or at least not one with the mean in the same place as for the rest of the population.

  2. The bell curve does exist for Nobel winners and impaired people but you are spot on the mean would be higher or lower[I assume].

    Patterns are how the human race and all life survives, so it is hardwired in us the look for patterns. A plant growing in a particular area will have adapted to the seasonal patterns, an animal the same. We humans are the best at adapting to changes in patterns, rats, cats and cockroaches do alright as well!

    Pareto also had a principle in that 80% of something is generally done by 20%. So it would be interesting to see where for example Nobel Lauretes place on the bell.
  3. 'Tis true, but of course it does sometimes also lead us to find patterns that are not really there. The term is 'apophenia'. Lots of magical thinking arises from this.
  4. so whats your point?
  5. I agree; Particularly with "all motorcyclists speed" and "all P-platers speed" and "interstate drivers are dangerous". Humans can quickly single-out motorcyclists (and P-platers and interstate drivers) on the road because they're relatively rare in the sea of cars. And we only take note of the bad ones.

    Throw in that the non-speeding motorcyclists never catch up, and suddenly the "sample" that people experience is of nothing but people who speed. (Assuming that the 'observer' is travelling at the speed limit. Plenty of people go about 5kph under)

    Onnnnnnnnnnnn the other hand - and I bet I'll get in trouble for saying this because it'll be taken the wrong way - I think 'culture shock' can explain a lot of behaviour too. What people are used to as a standard of behaviour.

    I've worked on projects where a subcontractor's foreign painter - who had all the knowledge and skill needed to do excellent steelwork painting - was working far too fast for our quality standards because he was used to being threatened with physical violence if he didn't paint X amount of steel in an hour.

    Another of their foreign workers almost climbed one of the powerpoles to change the line-fuse himself after his street in Townsville had a blackout, because he had trained as a linesman 'back home' and that's what they did 'back home' during a blackout.

    Given what I've seen and read of some other countries' traffic behaviour and expectations, and with the above examples in mind, I think some poor driver behaviour could be written off as 'culture shock' too.

    Throw in a bit of stereotyping action and generalisation and pattern-forming, and... :-k

    And now, I don the thickest asbestos suit I can afford, hopefully without need. But you can't tell me that Australians have as strict lane discipline as the UK or Germany, or that our conditions are as chaotic as the roads in India.
  6. Explain to me then when i ride around manly and pittwater no one tries to kill me yet when i ride through strathfield every single car is on a mission to kill me. Some Areas such as strathfield have a large congregation of one ethnic makeup or when i go out to penrith everyone tries to race me off the lights this area has a much diffrent economic background. In the end it all boils down to how they were taught to drive and if mummy and daddy think its ok to do burnouts and pull out infront of cars without looking, you can bet the kid is gonna be doing the exact same thing when he/she gets there license. This is why i am a fan of getting rid of the stupid green P's system for cars and have a proper driver training scheme, otherwise everyone just learns there bad habits from there parents.
  7. The bell curve is the whole basis of the "beat the odds" link in my sig.
  8. I see this all the time - "Oh, you're Chinese...? AND your last name is Lee??? You must know Kung-Fu! Are you related to Bruce Lee???"

    Culture shock certainly plays a part. Back in Malaysia, it's not uncommon to see people running red lights or cutting you off. It's just something that happens so often that no one bothers to even honk you. Bring a few people from that sort of environment over here and suddenly that minority stands out as representing their ethnic background.

    I can't agree with it being passed on via parents though. I avoid riding in the same car when my mother is driving (She unfortunately fits the asian woman driver stereotype) as it sort of scares me to death.

    That said, all logic seems to go out the window when people get behind the wheel. Timid people can turn into monsters and normally confident people can start getting beyond safely defensive.

    On the road it seems that everyone slower than you needs to learn how to drive and everyone faster is an asshat, but we never notice when we're conforming to a stereotype.
  9. So what you are saying is if i take a shot in the dark 68% of the time i am right. If i take an educated guess 95% of the time i am right

  10. I think all stereotypes fit a bell curve. There are a majority that have an element of truth, a few which are entirely spot on, and a few which are entirely fabricated.

    How about that?
  11. hmmmm take a characteristic that is "obvious" and different to you and then build a whole stereotype around it. :? Sounds like spin to me
  12. Roughly half of the Australian population has below average intelligence.
    Scary, no?
  13. I can't wait for pro-pilot to get onto this
  14. No, half the population falls below the median for IQ :wink:

    Average is the average not the half way score.

    2, 4, 8 & 16

    Average is 7.5
    Median is 9

    Sorry I am a smartarse who uses Median or Average depending on what outcome I am trying to sell!! :LOL:
  15. That's why I used the term "Roughly"...see quote above. Exactly half of the population is of below median intelligence.
  16. There are bad apples in the stereotype world. Don't be letting them give the rest of the stereotypes a bad name! You're just as bad as the racists, getting all judgmental on stereotypes because of a few bad experiences...

    etc etc

    You see my point.
  17. Oh and PS I just checked your calculations, the median is actually 6 for the example you gave, not 9 :grin:
  18. My statistical chops are pretty rusty, but isn't one characteristic of a true normal distribution that the mean would be the same as the median? Your sample numbers aren't normally distributed.
  19. Well I didn't want to bore people any more by pointing that out :LOL: , but yes a bell curve with normal distribution has no positive or negative skew. The average and median are the same.

    Allowing for difference between real world scores achieved as opposed to the assumptions made when constructing and normalising the test, it would be safer to say that the average and median are roughly the same. :grin:
  20. :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops: