Sunday, March 26, 2023

Voting age in New Zealand

I was aware that the minimum voting age has been challenged in Canada. That's something I mentioned a while back. However, I only very recently learned of some similar developments in New Zealand.

I gather than their Supreme Court has already ruled that restricting the vote to adults (18+) amounts to age discrimination against 16- and 17-year olds. Nonetheless, according to this article on The Conversation, it seems that proposed legislation to lower the voting age for national elections is unlikely to proceed - although it seems that the age may be lowered for local elections only, partly because this change only requires the support of a simple majority, rather than a 75% super-majority, of MPs. That may also be of interest when I teach about majoritarianism and constitutional entrenchment.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Is economics a social science?

I'm set to teach philosophy of social sciences next year (in the autumn), so I've been on the lookout for things about (social) science. I was struck by the title of this press release: a funding boost for economics and social sciences. 

This seems like rather odd phrasing to me. I would have thought that 'social sciences' already included economics, but separating them in this way suggests otherwise.

Institutionally speaking, the Department of Economics is part of the Faculty of Social Sciences. This may not be decisive, since our Faculty also includes Mathematical Sciences and I wouldn't ordinarily consider mathematicians to be social scientists. However, the inclusion of economics does not seem similarly incongruous. If anything, it's arguably the social science par excellence.

Thursday, March 16, 2023


Since I'm no longer in Scotland, I haven't followed the SNP leadership contest too closely, but this recent article caught my eye. It's mostly about membership numbers and transparency, but the bit I found most interesting was mention - at the very end - that the process uses the single transferable vote system.

This is slightly unusual terminology, since STV is normally used to refer to PR systems. When only one person is being elected, this is usually referred to as the alternative vote system - something I blogged about long ago

Nonetheless, it could be a useful example next time I'm teaching about these voting systems. I've previously used Conservative leadership contests as an example, though these aren't ideal in a couple of respects. First, unless there's a 'coronation' without a vote (as happened for May and Sunak), the final vote goes to party members, rather than MPs. This changes the electorate between rounds. Second, as a sort of consequence of this, someone can get over 50% in earlier rounds but not automatically win. This happened in 2019, when Boris Johnson received over 50% in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Base rate fallacy?

Sucked in by the clickbait headline, I read this article about bank fraud. I'm not sure whether I really learned anything about bank fraud, but it is a useful example for research methodology.

The article says that the UK banks most at risk of fraud are Santander, Natwest, Barclays, HSBC, and Halifax. However:

1. This is based on the number of online searches for terms such as '[bank] + fraud number'. It's not clear how reliable an indicator that is of fraud cases. It might be that some banks have this number more easily available from their home page, and that may skew how many people need to search.

2. There's no indication that they take account of how many customers each bank has, but that's surely significant in drawing any conclusions about risk of fraud. For instance, they report that Santander had 11,690 searches, but Natwest 11,480. This is only a small difference at best, but what if Santander had twice as many customers as Natwest? In that case, the odds of fraud (assuming that's what is being measured here) would only be about half...