A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Air Disasters

One of the lessons hammered home in the Smithsonian Channel's show Air Disasters -- do not look for it on your next in-flight movie selections -- is that as a general rule no air crash has a single cause. Rather, it is generally a nexus of causes that happen together that result in the crash. The same is usually the case in quality assurance, especially for those problems we call "common cause" variation; that is, those variations that are due to the system rather than to breakdowns in the system.

For example, if you throw two dice and the result is a 13, there is usually a particular ("assignable") cause for the outcome. There is an extra dot on one of the 6s; the dots have been miscounted; a third die has been introduced. IOW, some extraneous cause not normally part of the system has upset matters. OTOH, if the outcome is a 12, there is no particular cause. That is, the outcome is the result of a host of "small" causes, no one of which would the elimination thereof eliminate the 12s. And this is true no matter how undesirable the 12 may be.

Note that this does not mean that there is no cause, as some devotees of quantum mechanics might incline to say; but rather that there are a host of causes, no one of which determines the outcome. Rather, all of them in concert determine the outcome. The velocity of the dice when thrown, the angle at which they strike the surface, the coefficient of friction of the carpet, etc., etc. Throw the dice more gently, and the 12s will not be eliminated -- even if it appears to work at first. Control the angle of the throw, and the 12s will not be eliminated -- even if it appears to work at first.

Only by altering the system -- in this case, by changing the design of the dice -- can the undesirable outcome be eliminated. We could load the dice, reducing the likelihood of the 12. We could white-out one dot on one of the 6s. We could switch to tetrahedral dice. And so on. But no operational changes will solve the problem.

Why folks expect that socio-economic problems are mono-causal TOF does not know. It cannot be because they are simpler. Even those who repeat nostrums about "changing the system" seldom think through what that actually entails, and they will simply repeat the same "causes" that theory demands.

A favorite cause of the "male/female wage gap" is "gender discrimination." But there is no indication of what sort of discrimination this might be or how it is implemented in this day and age. Of course, there is likely some of this going down, despite decades of affirmative action to the contrary. Never underestimate the ability of even the most liberal managers to speak from both sides of the mouth. But a study of college majors undertaken by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce some while back might be instructive.

According to the Center, the ten most remunerative majors and the proportion who majored in them were:

1.   Petroleum Engineering: 87% male
2.   Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration: 48% male
3.   Mathematics and Computer Science: 67% male
4.   Aerospace Engineering: 88% male
5.   Chemical Engineering: 72% male
6.   Electrical Engineering: 89% male
7.   Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering: 97% male
8.   Mechanical Engineering: 90% male
9.   Metallurgical Engineering: 83% male
10. Mining and Mineral Engineering: 90% male

Of these, only Pharmacy majors included a significant proportions of women.

The ten least remunerative majors were:

1.  Counseling Psychology: 74% female
2.  Early Childhood Education: 97% female
3.  Theology and Religious Vocations: 34% female
4.  Human Services and Community Organization: 81% female
5.  Social Work: 88% female
6.  Drama and Theater Arts: 60% female
7.   Studio Arts: 66% female
8.   Communication Disorders Sciences and Services: 94% female
9.   Visual and Performing Arts: 77% female
10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs: 55% female

Of these, only Theology was predominately men, although a couple of others approached parity.

Thus, one major factor affecting the wage gap is that women choose not to major in disciplines like Petroleum Engineering or Mining Engineering that command high salaries and gravitate toward lower paying careers in Early Childhood Education and Community Organizing.

These examples should also do to indicate there is no relationship between the remuneration in a profession and its social importance. A job is paid at a rate that reflects the ability to replace the person in it, and this is a function of the specialized skills and knowledge required.


  1. The one factor that almost never gets mentioned:

    Say I'm a practical businessman, and have to hire 100 people for a business. I find a group A that is willing and able to do the required jobs, and a group B that is likewise willing and able to do the job - but for less money.

    Whether you consider me an evil capitalist or just someone competent in basic math or something else entirely, it should be obvious that I'd hire as many people out of group B as possible: I'd get the job done at less cost to me.

    Applied to the so-called male/female wage gap, if women who are otherwise exactly as competent and willing to work are in fact paid less on average, the first hiring manager to figure this out in any industry at all will put his company at a competitive advantage, with lower staffing costs, than his competitors, take business away from them with lower prices, and maybe even put them out of business.

    In the real world, if this situation arose, the competitors would adopt the same hire-cheaper-women policy until all available women were hired, at which point they'd start bidding up the price (wages) for that particular pool of workers, until the wages become effectively equal.

    Nobody involved would do any of this out of altruism or evil intent - they'd do it to stay in business. It's the same logic that compels some businesses to move production out of the country - foreign workers are the group B in such cases.

    This is what we'd expect to see. The male/female wage gap would go away on its own due to - wait for it - market pressures. Simple business logic demands it. Unless the male/female wage gap doesn't actually exist.

  2. All you people who think sexism or racism hardly explains anything happening today, please read the Epistle of James. Injustice happened in the first century and it still occurs today. Why is that so hard to comprehend? Yes, there are other factors behind the wage gap, but why do people want to explain away injustice or discrimination as a cause? Also don't forget the history of women.

    1. Racism and sexism explain a great many things happening today, when you remember it is possible to be racist against whites and sexist against men. There's even some of the more recognized type, particularly against Hispanics and Asians, and women who won't go along with the brand of feminism ultimately traceable to Simone "Harley Quinn" Beauvoir.

      Nowhere was it claimed that racism or sexism "hardly explains anything". To the contrary, it was explicitly stated that "there is likely some of this going down". What was claimed is that they cannot possibly be the sole explanation. They could be an explanation of literally everything—the sky could somehow be blue because of racism, water might flow downhill because of sexism—and they would still not be the sole explanation.

      This entire blog post is about things not having single causes, you caught that right?

    2. Depending on how racism is defined, maybe what you say is true. Yet you jump to reverse discrimination and forget all that's happened to minorities and women in the USA and other places. No mention of discrimination against blacks (African Americans) or Native Americans: you know all that slavery, segregation and genocidal stuff that occurred. Okay. Even one pope acknowledged that women have often gotten a raw deal in history from men.

      In my opinion, the blog minimized racism and sexism as potential causes. And if you read my statements carefully, I too mentioned that "other factors" besides racism or sexism explain the wage gap. So I'm not arguing for a single cause, my friend. Have a nice one.

    3. In my opinion, the blog minimized racism and sexism as potential causes.

      That's because you are a racist, as well as a sexist.

      You are explicitly judging people because of their race and/or sex-- there is no question of right or wrong done to persons, it's all about putting people into groups that you then decide to reward or punish, based on your judgement of how that group was treated.

      You don't oppose racism. You demand it.

    4. Dude/lady,

      You know nothing about me. So it's difficult to say whether I'm racist or sexist or not. Who did I judge? How did I judge? If someone lynches another human being on the basis of racial factors, what would you call it? Are you denying that lynching happened in the American south? Are you denying that segregation occurred? What about women and blacks not having the right to vote? I participated in none of those activities.

    5. The only thing being addressed here is the so-called wage gap. It was not claimed that sex discrimination had nothing to do with it, only that the choice of majors in college had, for those entering professions, a significant impact. We can even contend that relatively few women matriculated in petroleum engineering because of sexism rather than personal preferences. (Though in fact many of these schools and departments actively seek out and recruit women. You cannot force someone into a highly technical field of study if they are not interested in it.)

      This is not the same as saying there is no sexism. Or that it was not much worse a generation or two ago. And it certainly says nothing at all about racism. The data presented was for men/women, not race. Whether segregation or lynching occurred is not relevant to the "gender gap" in wages. Neither is the right to vote, since we generally don't get to vote on our salaries.

    6. Of the exactly two incidents of "genocidal stuff" that actually happened, in the post-Columbian New World, one was committed by the Comanche against the Plains Apache. The other was during the Anglo expansion into California. Hey do you actually know any history? Seems like not.

      Besides, you may want to look it up: Slavs have suffered more than any non-white group except the Chinese and maybe Hindus, in history. Between the Ottoman Turks and the Soviet Union, Slavs have been enslaved longer and more brutally than blacks (as in 800 years compareed to less than 300—a paltry 246 for Anglo-American slavery), and genocided in higher numbers even than Jews in the Holocaust (the low estimate for the Holodomor's death-toll is 7 million, a million more than the Jewish toll of the Nazi camps; the high estimate is 10 million, the same as the total death-toll of the Nazi camps—and that was in less than two years, 1932-1933, not four).

      Women have indeed gotten a raw deal throughout history, but Western Civilization has less to apologize for on that count than any other. Are you done with the fact-free moral posturing yet?

    7. Three : The Trail of Tears. Then the question of if kepping the Native Americans on a reservation is comparable to a gulag.

    8. The reservations are more like the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions of the PRC.

  3. Heard a story on this on the radio this morning-- twas so painfully bad I actually turned it off.

    The girl-- I fear she was my age, but dang she was a girl-child-- could not even imagine any reasons that women would be more likely to be reported as the most competent, but less likely to be promoted to management.
    Those were the only things they looked at. After age 40, women were more likely than me to be promoted to management.
    Not even a glance at full time vs part time, if women were more likely to work in very small businesses (no management to be promoted to-- that's the owner!), if women WANTED to be in management (most sane ones: oh heck no), if women tended to be in jobs that can be rephrased as "secretary," where they are the only one doing that job....

    Nope. It's gotta be women done wrong.

  4. Quantum Mechanics doesn't hold that a particular event had no cause in and of itself, but rather than radioactive decay could have just as easily happened earlier or later, and that there is no physical hidden variable that can account for why the decay occured at this specific time rather than another time when it could have just as easily decayed as well.

    In other words, QM doesn't say that there is a series of causes which make a particle decay at t2 as opposed to t1 or t3, and thus no PARTICULAR single cause.

    But rather that there simply is no cause as to why a particle decays at one point in time rather than another - full stop.

    1. Since my physics training ended 40 years ago upon completion of the minimum number of physics credits necessary to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, I will wait until someone better trained in Quantum Mechanics weighs in to explain what is wrong with what you just said.

      I don't need a degree in quantum mechanics, though, to know that when anyone says, "there simply is no cause as to why" [insert physical event] "rather than another - full stop", he is wrong.

    2. I'm probably less versed on QM than thefederalist, but the epistemological weirdness in quantum mechanics is more about what scientists can actually say than necessarily about reality as such. What we can tell, and what is "actually" the case, are two different things.

  5. Mr. Flynn, may I ask, why is Frank Herbert's novel "Dune" considered by many to be greatest sci fi novel of all time? What exactly did it do to become so beloved in science fiction?

    1. I have no idea. Perhaps it was because it presented a world far more convoluted than was common back then, with lots of backstabbing and different factions in play, all with different agendas; not just good guys and bad guys. I read it when it was in serial form in ANALOG magazine.

    2. Oh, ok. What novel would you say is the best sci fi novel of all time?

    3. Other than my own? Nyuk, nyuk. That would require considerable thought, because there are many dimensions to the word "best" and "all time" covers a lot of ground. I would have to contemplate: what novel do I find myself re-reading often, and why?

    4. Dune's main appeal to me, certainly, is the worldbuilding. It loses a lot of it when you realize Herbert basically just wrote a story about the Byzantine Empire going to war over oil and getting conquered by noble savages from the desert, although the sequels do explore how that's mostly not a good thing.

    5. I read somwhere that Herbert wrote in as a condemnation of hero worship. What do you think?

    6. I think he wrote it as a straw man of the idea of hero worship, anyway. Funny how the only parts anyone remembers are the parts that would make hero worship attractive, though; I'm reminded of how the French filmmaker Fran├žois Truffaut believed you can't make a really anti-war movie, because war always looks like a blast on film. (See also any of Hollywood's anti-military explosion fests.)

  6. You know nothing about me. So it's difficult to say whether I'm racist or sexist or not.

    No, it isn't hard at all.

    You come in, guns blazing, fists swinging about how "all that has happened to" the groups you so graciously choose to champion.

    Just as I can say, when someone declares 2+2=5, that they are wrong-- I can declare that the person who wants to declare we have to judge on sex and race because historically that happened is a sexist and a racist.

    It doesn't matter if they want to specially define it so that sexism that's "helping" women. (Funny how it usually ends up being only the women doing the right thing.)

    It doesn't matter if you're a five legged dog. I can look at what you urge, and call a spade a spade.

    1. ... so that sexism that's "helping" women... does not count as sexism.

  7. Just to clarify, gents, then I'll drop the issue. Foxfier, you continue to misrepresent my view and comments whether wittingly or unwittingly, I do not know. I will continue to champion the oppressed just like ancient Bible writers did: no apologies there! Sorry if it offends you. On the other hand, where did I say we should judge everything based on race or sex? That's a misrepresentation. It is more controversial whether it's possible for someone without much (any) social power to be racist or sexist. All I'm urging is that we should treat everyone justly--regardless of sex or race.

    Sophia's Favorite, I don't try to justify one group's oppression by pointing out that others have suffered more. Any act of genocide should be condemned, point blank. Segregation, slavery, and lynching happened whether we want to acknowledge them or not.


    1. You complain about people misrepresenting your views and then you accuse me of justifying anyone's oppression? Go die in a garbage fire: conveniently, that's any fire that involves trash like you.

      As you would have understood if you were not too busy with self-contratulation, you preening self-righteous jackass, I brought up the fact the Slavs have been infinitely more oppressed than your precious mascot-groups to illustrate that your conception of "the oppressed" is myopic and simplistic. You do realize not all of us here share your well-deserved sense of inherited guilt? None of my people have ever oppressed anyone; we've always been on the receiving end, mostly from self-righteous Anglos like you. While you're apologizing to the designated victim-group du jour, how about you apologize to my grandmother's people for selling her country to Hitler at Munich and then to Stalin at Yalta? Then you can apologize to some of my father's ancestors for inflicting the second-largest mass-relocation in New World history on them. And then you can finish off by apologizing for treating all the rest of my ancestors exactly as badly as you ever treated any non-white group.

      "What you mean 'we', white man?"

    2. Ah, did a woman refusing to bow and scrape in proper gratitude for your gracious efforts to properly sort me for reward or punishment hurt your feelings, Anon?

      Are you stung by people judging your goals by what you actually describe of your goals, rather than by your biological plumbing and skin color, or your self-anointed status as high priest of group justice?

      Trying to wrap yourself in the cloak of the ancient Bible writers? Maybe you should look closer at what they wrote-- perhaps this line:
      There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
      Or even the full chapter that surrounds it.
      Or check out how Christ told the woman at the well that she must pay for the wrongs of her ancestors, or all women...oh, wait, that's right, He did no such thing.
      Quite the opposite. He had a rather nasty habit of dealing with people as individuals, to be judged on their own sins, not those attributed to some group you chose to define them by.


      You are no different than those you claim to be fighting. You just want to be the one picking the blood-guilty-targets of vengeance, rather than doing the actual hard work to do justice to people.

      That, counter your claims, does not mean looking at wrongs that you are willing to acknowledge as done to utterly different people, nor does it involve torturing the language until you declare that evil is not evil when done by someone your theory needs to be not evil.

      As Sophia's Favorite has well demonstrated, the concept of blood guilt is not well suited for your declared goals.

    3. Okay. That's enough name calling.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.


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