Survey “reveals significant gaps in adult New Zealanders’ general knowledge”

The NZ Initiative has done a survey to try to gage levels of public knowledge.

New research released by The New Zealand Initiative reveals significant gaps in adult New Zealanders’ general knowledge.

Ignorance is not bliss: Why knowledge matters (and why we may not have enough of it) argues that although information is readily available nowadays, our basic knowledge of subjects like geography, history, and maths is low.

To get a glimpse of the state of general knowledge in New Zealand, the Initiative commissioned a representative survey of 1000 voting-age New Zealanders. Respondents were asked 13 general knowledge questions.

All of the questions asked in the survey:

I’ll change this to include the answers and results later.


UK Labour policy to trial Universal Basic Income if elected contrary to research

Labour (UK) is promising to Introduce trials of a Universal Basic Income, but recent research concludes: There is no evidence that the project can meet its goals while being economically viable at the same time.

Golriz Ghahraman responded:

Yes! Two things:

1) There’s enough longitudinal research around the world to prove UBI works. No need for a ‘trial’. Let’s just pick the most effective version and apply it.

2) UKGreens had this policy first, but nice to see the big parties following the Green movement

The most effective version? I don’t know of anywhere that a country-wide UBI has been tried successfully.

From the Green Party Income Support Policy

Specific Policy Points

  • Work with other parties and the public to develop a proposal(s) for the introduction of a UBI and the changes needed to fund and implement it.
  • Set benefit amounts at a level sufficient for all basic needs of the individual/family.

I don’t know whether any work is being done with Labour towards introducing UBI.  I would be very surprised if the Greens are doing anything with NZ First on one.

Last week from Stuff:  Universal Basic Income is a failure, new report says

A new study on universal basic income (UBI) is challenging the central claim used to promote the scheme: that, if done right, it can help alleviate poverty.

Proponents of the basic income argue that it will help those below the poverty line pay for essentials like food, housing, and healthcare, according to the assessment by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in the UK.

The NEF reviewed 16 real-life UBI trials to see whether a basic income can really bridge the inequality gap.

Its conclusion: There is no evidence that the project can meet its goals while being economically viable at the same time.

I wonder what Ghahraman’s “There’s enough longitudinal research around the world to prove UBI works” is based on.

Survey into Medicinal Cannabis use

A survey of users of medicinal cannabis has been launched. This should get useful information, but as a lot of medical cannabis use is likely to be illegal it may be difficult to get a comprehensive picture.

MCANZ launches its first study of Medical Cannabis users in NZ.

An unprecedented research project to discover how and why New Zealanders are using cannabis medicinally has been launched today by Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand.

The study, New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Use Research Survey 2019, is an online survey of patients using cannabis for medical reasons based on Australia’s Cannabis As Medicine Survey and has been designed in conjunction with University of Otago researcher Dr Geoff Noller. It has been granted ethics approval and is MCANZ’s first research project.

“During the Select Committee process last year, it became apparent that no one had any data on the trends in illicit medical use, such as the rate of criminalization or even a decent snapshot of what conditions were most common for illicit medical use,” says MCANZ Coordinator Shane Le Brun.

“The only research relevant was a Ministry of Health study on cannabis use dating from 2012-2013, and frankly, medical use was only an afterthought in that research,” says MCANZ Le Brun.

“This research is a first for MCANZ and we’re delighted to be working with  Dr Noller. This first survey will give us a snapshot of current medical use in New Zealand and establish trends and areas that will need focus in the setting up of New Zealand’s new medicinal cannabis regime.” says Le Brun

“The intent is for this study to be conducted every 2 years, so the first study will serve as a baseline for the future, particularly to measure the impact of the Medical Cannabis Scheme,” says Lead investigator  Dr. Geoff Noller.

“The study covers topics ranging from perceived medical efficacy, knowledge of harm reduction such as vaping, and the impact of criminality on medical use,” says Noller.

If you use medicinal cannabis you can do the survey here:

New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Use Research Survey 2019

Research on perceptions on Internet health

Mozilla has done some research on perceptions of the health of the Internet.

New Research: How Germans, Americans, Women and Men Feel About Internet Health

Fresh research from Mozilla explores perceptions of internet health among Americans and Germans; women and men; and various age, income and education levels

Today, Mozilla is publishing research that examines people’s perceptions of internet health.

In our first-ever Attitudes Toward Internet Issues report, we study how people feel about online privacy and security, online harassment, misinformation, openness, and other topics. We also explore how perceptions differ among various demographics, like Americans and Germans, women and men, and various age, income and education levels.

“Our findings reveal that a number of factors — from gender to geography — deeply influence how people perceive the state of the web,” says Sam Burton, who leads the Mozilla Foundation’s research on internet health.

“We also learned that some people are more likely than others to take action to improve the health of the internet,” Burton continues. “Actions might include using open source products, checking the source of a news article before sharing it, or standing up for someone being bullied online.”

Attitudes Toward Internet Issues is built around Mozilla’s five internet health issues: Online Privacy and Security; Openness; Decentralization; Digital Inclusion; and Web Literacy.

Key findings:

Online Privacy and Security is the most well-known internet health issue in both the United States and Germany.

  • Just over 60% of people surveyed in both countries indicate they are aware of the issue
  • Social media data correlates with this finding; posts about Online Privacy and Security surpassed posts about other internet health issues

Men are generally more aware of internet health issues than women in both the United States and Germany.

  • However, the gender gap is much smaller in Germany than in the United States
  • In Germany, women are slightly more aware of Online Privacy and Security than men (69% and 67% respectively). This is the only case in which women were more aware of an internet health issue than men

But women tend to care more about online privacy and security than men in both the United States and Germany.

  • In the United States, 75% of women versus 64% of men care about Online Privacy and Security
  • In Germany, 82% of women versus 68% of men care about Online Privacy and Security

Income and education play an important role in awareness of and engagement with internet health issues

  • The Ipsos survey indicates that people in both the United States and Germany with higher income and higher education are on average two times more likely to report familiarity with the term “internet health” than people with other socioeconomic backgrounds

Awareness of all five internet health issues increased between July 2016 and March 2017 in both the United States and Germany.

  • The up-trend was mild, but notable for all five issues
  • Open Innovation was the slowest to increase, particularly in Germany

Awareness of and concern about internet health issues do not necessarily correlate when accounting for age

  • In Germany, the oldest people surveyed (46+ year olds) are most concerned about Internet health issues
  • In both countries,the youngest people surveyed (16–25 year olds) are the most aware of Internet health issues, but expressed the least concern about most of these issues

Read the full Attitudes Toward Internet Issues report.

Gender pay gap – real but not all discrimination

A sensible and balanced view on the gender pay gap and the reaction to a report on it last week from Dr Rachel Hodder : THE GENDER PAY GAP IS NO MYTH, BUT NOR IS IT ALL DISCRIMINATION

Whenever controversial issues are debated, the loudest voices are often the least informed.

The quickest and loudest are often poorly informed.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the gender pay gap debate.

Last week, the Ministry of Women released an excellent report examining gender pay differences in New Zealand. The reception of the report was disappointing, but not surprising. It would seem that many of those arguing about the report had either not read it or not understood it.

The proponents lauded the report as undeniable evidence that women are paid 10% less than men purely because of discrimination. On the other side, critics rushed to rubbish the paper claiming the pay gap is a myth and only exists when researchers fail to account for obvious differences.

Both sides are wrong, but both also contain a nugget of truth. This report does provide strong evidence that the gender pay gap is indeed real. However, the report does shed light on factors beyond discrimination that may explain the gap.

With pay discrepancies there are always going to be multiple factors.

The critics pointed out that there are important factors that can account for wage differences. Personal characteristics, household characteristics, age, education, occupation, and industry will all matter in how much someone gets paid regardless of gender. Without accounting for any choice or circumstance factors, the average woman gets paid 12% less than the average man.

The authors know this too and so they controlled for these factors. The pay gap persisted. They showed that a woman will get paid 10% less than a man with the same age, ethnicity, education, occupation, industry, marital status, number of kids, full time status, etc.

That 10% is called the ‘unexplained’ component of the wage gap. This is not a failure of the model, as some critics claimed. Nor is it necessarily all caused by workplace biases, as some proponents claimed.

Women are also more likely than men to choose child care over advancing their careers (and earnings), at least temporarily.

What that 10% represents is the difference in pay that men receive when they have the same identifiable characteristics as women. The 10% can then be broken down into the different factors that affect men and women’s pay differently.

The pay gap is not caused by women choosing lower paying careers. The authors controlled for that. There is still a gap.

There may still be important differences within occupations and industries that the study cannot observe. Surgeons are paid more than paediatricians but in the data they will both be counted as professionals in the health care sector.

However, the study showed that women actually receive slightly higher returns to industry and occupation choice than men. In other words, the wage gap looks bigger, not smaller, once you control for these factors.


The report proponents did miss some of the important details too.

First, the paper clearly demonstrates that there is no pay gap at the bottom end of the income distribution. If anything there appears to be a slight bias in the opposite direction, particularly for younger women.

So females start at least as well off.

Moving up the distribution, the gap increases and less can be explained by observable factors. Which would seem to point towards a glass ceiling effect. Women have roughly equal opportunities at the early stages of their careers but face a tougher climb up to the top of the ladder. However, the glass ceiling is not entirely imposed by sexism.

A separate report released by Statistics New Zealand showed that the gender pay gap is much larger for parents compared to non-parents. This report confirms that differing pay effects from household characteristics explains about half the pay gap. For better or worse, mothers are much more likely to spend time out of the workforce for child-rearing than fathers. This can have a dramatic effect on career advancement.

Women are more likely than men to choose to take time out from their careers.

The biggest factor that affected the pay gap was the difference in pay as it relates to age. Older men get paid much more than older women. This could partly be explained by the same motherhood penalty that may have enduring effects throughout a woman’s career.

It may also be picking up cohort effects. Sexist attitudes from decades ago will have enduring effects on the income distribution.

As more women get into management and salary and promotion deciding positions sexist bias should diminish – unless women tend to be biased too.

As society gets more progressive these effects should diminish.

The critics claiming the pay gap is a myth should pay more attention to quality research in the area. There is a wealth of research demonstrating unconscious bias against women. It would be absurd to suggest that discrimination does not cause some of the pay gap.

However, accepting that such discrimination exists does not mean accepting all the proposed policy solutions. Both sides seem to miss this crucial point. There is nothing inconsistent with acknowledging a pay gap but disagreeing that Government must fix it. Some policy cures can be worse than the disease.

The best way to address the gender pay gap will be determined by informed, rational analysis. Something not offered by those who don’t bother to read the research before commenting.

It takes time to get informed comment from people who take the time to read reports properly rather than react to headlines. By the time that happens most vocal critics are likely to have moved on to other issues.

What to do about climate science?

Lets assume that current climate science is flawed. Any science on something so complex and influenced by many things will have flaws and deficiencies and inaccuracies, and will always be a work in progress.

One of the biggest difficulties with trying to measure climate changes is that climate has always changed over time. The last glacial period (Ice Age) on earth was relatively recent, occurring from about 110,000-11,700 years ago, so the climate has changed significantly in the short time since then.

Climate science is very contentious. There is some healthy scepticism and questioning and contesting, as there should be with any science.

There are opponents of climate predictions for political and financial reasons.

There have been deliberate campaigns to disrupt and discredit the science by people with vested interests in doing nothing about the climate or in denial of human influence on the climate.

The vast changes on our planet due to humans must have had and must be having some effect on the climate. The questions are how much, and whether we should care about it.

Assuming that current climate science is far from perfect and far from definitive what should we do about it?

  • Continue with much the same levels of research that we have at present?
  • Improve what we have – put more resources into getting better results and more accurate predictions from climate research?
  • Change to focus of climate research substantially? If so, to what?
  • Ditch climate research, put it in the too hard basket or the doesn’t matter basket, and just react to whatever weather and climate we get regardless of causes?

Or should we take a different approach?


Difficulties replicating scientific studies

Maggy Wassilieff posted: Major overhaul of science and science publishing long overdue.

According to a recent survey published in the journal Nature, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Linking to BBC: Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

Science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

Has scientific study become too complex to easily replicate? Or are too many studies poorly done?

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

After meticulous research involving painstaking attention to detail over several years (the project was launched in 2011), the team was able to confirm only two of the original studies’ findings.

Two more proved inconclusive and in the fifth, the team completely failed to replicate the result.

“It’s worrying because replication is supposed to be a hallmark of scientific integrity,” says Dr Errington.

A lot of science must be ok, the world continues to advance through many areas of science. For example new drugs do seem to be effective in part at least.

But if scientific study can’t meet a fundamental requirement of sound research – being able to be replicated – then there should be major concerns.

Concern over the reliability of the results published in scientific literature has been growing for some time.

According to a survey published in the journal Nature last summer, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Is that because of a lack of understanding of how to do the experiments? Or poor initial research?

The reproducibility difficulties are not about fraud, according to Dame Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

That would be relatively easy to stamp out. Instead, she says: “It’s about a culture that promotes impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work that most of science is about.”

Similar in a way to journalists and media tending more towards glitz and click bait and doing less investigative research on things that really matter.

She says it’s about the funding bodies that want to secure the biggest bang for their bucks, the peer review journals that vie to publish the most exciting breakthroughs, the institutes and universities that measure success in grants won and papers published and the ambition of the researchers themselves.

“Everyone has to take a share of the blame,” she argues. “The way the system is set up encourages less than optimal outcomes.”

Hence, presumably, Maggy suggesting “Major overhaul of science and science publishing long overdue.”

“Replication is something scientists should be thinking about before they write the paper,” says Ritu Dhand, the editorial director at Nature.

“It is a big problem, but it’s something the journals can’t tackle on their own. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach involving funders, the institutes, the journals and the researchers.”

But we need to be bolder, according to the Edinburgh neuroscientist Prof Malcolm Macleod.

“The issue of replication goes to the heart of the scientific process.”

Writing in the latest edition of Nature, he outlines a new approach to animal studies that calls for independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a paper’s central hypothesis before publication.

“Without efforts to reproduce the findings of others, we don’t know if the facts out there actually represent what’s happening in biology or not.”

Without knowing whether the published scientific literature is built on solid foundations or sand, he argues, we’re wasting both time and money.

“It could be that we would be much further forward in terms of developing new cures and treatments. It’s a regrettable situation, but I’m afraid that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

So will anything change?

Not only is suspect research a problem – if there are a lot of questions about research reliability then it allows doubts to be raised even over good research.

Crime researcher unfit to research crime

A story getting a lot of attention today is that of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a crime researcher who says the police have banned him from receiving basic crime data because he researched gangs.

UPDATE: Alan W responds well in the comment thread below:

They are not entitled to give him a hard time. Data is data. Once it is in public everyone can interpret it. If Gilbert misinterprets it, others can critique or correct him. That is how research works. The cops are totally out of line here.

Gilbert’s NZ Herald column: Dr Jarrod Gilbert: The police have deemed me unfit to undertake crime research because I know criminals

I’ve been deemed by the police to be unfit to conduct research – I’ve been banned from accessing basic and uncontroversial police data. As an academic who studies crime, this is rather crippling. It’s also a staggering abuse of power.

The police have deemed me unfit because of my “association with gangs”. This association won’t surprise many people: I did New Zealand’s largest ever study of gangs. It was long, exhausting and sometimes dangerous work, but it was worth it. The research culminated in an award-winning book, and academic publications all around the world.

If so this does seem a silly decision of the Police. Very silly.

The degree of control the police sought over research findings and publications was more than trifling. The research contracts demand that a draft report be provided to police. If the results are deemed to be “negative” then the police will seek to “improve its outcomes”. Both the intent and the language would have impressed George Orwell.

Researchers unprepared to yield and make changes face a clause stating the police “retain the sole right to veto any findings from release”. In other words, if an academic study said something the police didn’t like – or heaven forbid was in any way critical of the police – then the police could stop it being published.

These demands were supported by threats. The contracts state that police will “blacklist” the researchers and “any organisations connected to the project … from access to any further police resources” if they don’t abide by police wishes.

The implication is this: Do it as we want it, and release findings that we don’t object to, and you can get police data. If not, find another occupation. I have spoken to a number of researchers who have had terrible experiences with this process but live in fear of information being cut off. They don’t complain. They feel they can’t.

A crime researcher has to be able to be critical if he feels that’s what his research justifies, without being blocked from accessing data required for research.

Stuff reports that the police have said they will reconsider their decision.

Strategy deputy chief executive Mark Evans said all academics seeking police data sign a research agreement, which set out police expectations including that research was accurate, balanced and constructive.

The applications went through a “robust process” to ensure they had “benefits for police”, were of good standard, met privacy obligations and the police time required to process them was “feasible”, Evans said.

If the police thinks research won’t benefit them can block research data from being used? That sounds crappy – they shouldn’t be prejudging the value of research before it’s been done.

Police could prevent further access to police resources if a researcher breached the agreement, he said.

That’s fair enough – as long as the conditions are fair enough.


Sea level rise may be accelerating

Climate change predictions are not fixed, they keep needing to be adapted as more research results become known.

A new Australian study appears to explain a previous puzzle. Radio NZ reports in Sea level rise accelerating – study.

Satellite data dating back to 1993 appeared to show sea level rise accelerating in the 1990s and then slowing over the following decade.

But a new study claims that was incorrect due to early inaccuracies.

Sea level rise accelerated faster in the past two decades than it did for the majority of the 20th century according to a new study.

The report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, corrected an anomaly that had puzzled the scientific community for years.

Satellite data dating back to 1993 appeared to show sea level rise accelerating in the 1990s and then slowing over the following decade.

Over the past five years, researchers from the University of Tasmania have been using tide gauges to check the satellite data.

Lead researcher Christopher Watson said they now thought they had the answer.

“Now, once we make a correction for how much land motion is at the tide gauge, or how much it’s moving up and down, we’re able to get a better picture of the really small inaccuracies within the altimeter record.”

He said the study suggested satellites marginally overestimated the rate of sea level rise in the first six years and that distorted the long-term picture.

Revised data suggested the rate of rise actually increased over the past 20 years.

“What we can see here is sea level clearly rising over the 20-year satellite altimeter record with acceleration in the record,” said Dr Watson.

If this is accepted then a few climate models may need to be adjusted.

Report co-author John Church, a fellow of Australia’s CSIRO science agency, said sea levels were predicted to rise by up to 98 centimetres in the next 85 years.

He said that would affect more than 150 million people living in low-lying coastal communities.

“If we have major mitigation, then we can limit that rise to be somewhere between 30 and 60 centimetres during the 21st century,” he said.

Two things are certain about climate change – the research will continue and the arguments will continue.

Nature Climate Change article: Unabated global mean sea-level rise over the satellite altimeter era

Pain killer, pleasure killer

This really shouldn’t be a surprise – drugs that suppress pain could also be suppressing pleasure.

Paracetamol: Pain killer also kills pleasure

Paracetamol is an effective pain reliever but also reduces feelings of pleasure, a study suggests.

The previously unknown side effect means that over-the-counter painkillers are leaving users not only pain-free, but also emotionally numb.

Previously unknown? No one has thought of the possibility before? Or no one has researched it before?

In a study carried out by US researchers, volunteers who took paracetamol reported weaker feelings when they were shown photographs that were either pleasant or harrowing, compared with volunteers who had not taken the drug.

“This means that using paracetamol might have broader consequences than previously thought,” said Geoffrey Durso, the lead author and a doctoral student in social psychology at Ohio State University. “Rather than just being a pain reliever, paracetamol can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever.”

Previous research had shown that the painkiller works not only on physical pain, but also on psychological pain.

However, the new study took those results one step further by showing that it also reduces how users experience positive emotions.

Sounds quite logical to me. Just as well I rarely use painkillers.

Mote detail from Ohio State University:  Your pain reliever may also be diminishing your joy