[ExI] Impressive book: Farewell to Alms

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Feb 5 07:30:58 UTC 2008

Keith rebuts a point made by Philip Jenkins in

>>There just aren't enough wills compared with the population numbers.
>>People who wrote wills are a small, self-selected subset of the
>>population. It is a great leap to conclude that the small subset of
>>wills is representative of the whole population. The vast majority of
>>the population had lives that never got into the records anywhere.
> Elemental sampling theory treats numbers as large
> as the population as effectively infinite.  The
> statistical error you get out of samples is such
> that a sample of a few hundred gives decent
> expected error bounds on the whole population.

That is a good point, but perhaps the writer meant by "self-selected"
some non-typical portion of the population. Still, you're right, in that
he should at least have said just how the self-selection translated
into unrepresentativeness. (Perhaps he did elsewhere.)

> If it's a leap of faith the Gallop polls make the same leap.


>>For that matter, Clark is primarily an economic ­historian of the
>>industrial era and knows next to ­nothing about who elites were in
>>earlier times, still less what the elite cultural patterns were in the
>>Middle Ages and the Early Modern period.
> Does anyone besides me characterize this as "ad hominem"?

I would not call it that. True, the writer is not addressing Clark's
arguments, he's instead addressing Clark's credentials. In another
post I called that "inverse argument from authority".

> It [the Jenkins review] closes this way:
> "It is an open question whether these virtues
> outweigh the book's obvious flaws. Perhaps its
> most ­worrying feature is that A Farewell to Alms
> will be used to legitimize biological and genetic
> approaches to the study of modern history."

By this sentence, the writer wishes to keep reminding
you that you have other, very moral, and very serious
reasons to come to a conclusion against the book's
author's conclusions.

(In other words, you, the reader, are automatically
credited with the good sense to automatically be
against "biological and genetic approaches to the
study of modern history".  God, I hope the
writer is not correct in assuming this knee-jerk
response in most readers, but alas, his estimate
of the credulity and political solidarity of his
readers is probably right-on.)

> > It may well begin a fad that we can expect to see
> > imitated in studies of other fields and eras, as
> > scholars start explaining cultural changes in
> > terms of recent evolution and genetic diffusion.

A fad, eh?  How's that for begging the question?
Or, as Keith writes

> > Welcome back, eugenics."

> Ah, another thought stopper.  Like [the] use of "racism."


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