Out on the fringes

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The political far right love blogs. That’s a truth universally acknowledged, to misquote Jane Austen.

And what is staggering is how irrelevant what they write is. Take an example. Earlier today I wrote about the things that tax pays for – and referred to roads. So this comment came back from a regular far right contributor:

Toll roads and Turnpikes (any place called a Turnpike used to be one end of a toll road) used to exist in the UK, people would pay for the directness and security (because they would be patrolled (remember that this is before Robert Peel formed the modern Police)) that they offered over ‚Äòcommon’ roads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_road_association So Private roads to towns, villages and hamlets do exist

There are also Toll roads in the US that are almost always faster, more direct and better maintained because it is in the interest of the owner that the interest of the customer is fulfilled.

The other day another of the breed, to make his point that democracy is not linked to the existence of society referred to anarchists in Catalonia as if the fact that a group of them existed for a while proved his point.

The arguments are typical of the offering of these people. It’s as if they really are dedicated to the extremes. A simple diagram helps:

Yes, that’s the normal distribution – a widely recognised statistical phenomenon. As Wikipedia says of this diagram:

Dark blue is less than one standard deviation from the mean. For the normal distribution, this accounts for about 68% of the set (dark blue), while two standard deviations from the mean (medium and dark blue) account for about 95%, and three standard deviations (light, medium, and dark blue) account for about 99.7%.

What this says is that if you observe a phenomena (almost any phenomena) most results cluster around something that might be called normality. But there will always be so data which is way out of the normal range.

Now I don’t ignore stuff way outside the normal – Black Swan theory teaches the importance of that – but equally, and quite candidly, the vast majority of the time we can identify the outliers in any population (like toll roads and Catalonian anarchists) and say they are absolutely irrelevant to the formulation of policy that is likely to have any consequence for real people right now living their lives in the normal range of expectation. Or to put it another way – we can safely ignore this stuff.

Not apparently though if you are from the political far right. This stuff is their stock in trade. The more  the stuff they can find to fuel their arguments is from the far fringes of relevance the happier they seem to be.

But as such we can and should treat them as we do the data we knowingly dismiss  as irrelevant.

Which is just what I do.

And thankfully the UK political mainstream does.

It’s a shame more blogs don’t do the same.