Friday, 1 April 2011

Another distinction between "conservatives" and "liberals", or type I and type II errors

In his book, Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos write about Type I and Type II errors that come up in statistical analysis. He says that Type I errors occur when a sound hypothesis is rejected, and Type II errors when a false hypothesis is accepted.

In terms of entitlements and dues (and I'd say, rights) he goes on to say that "...the stereotypical liberal tries especially hard to avoid Type I errors (the deserving not receiving their share), whereas the stereotypical conservative is more concerned with avoiding Type II errors (the undeserving receiving more than their share). When punishment is meted out, the stereotypical conservative is more concerned with avoiding Type I errors (the deserving or guilty not receiving their due), whereas the stereotypical liberal worries more about avoiding Type II errors (the undeserving or innocent receiving undue punishment)".

I know that this is a rather pat way of presenting the differences between "conservative" and "liberal" politics but it seems to hold as a sound principle. There are fiscal conservatives and there are social conservatives; as there are fiscal liberals and there are social liberals. In terms of governance, the fiscal conservatives tend to be less concerned with right-wing ideology than social conservatives, and therefore tend to be more tolerant and understanding of economic classes and other cultural differences.

I heard the other day an interesting take on negative campaigns and attack ads especially. In terms of personal attack ads, the right tend to be more accepting of personalizing attacks on their political opponents (remember Dion being bombed by a bird, or Chretien's lop-sided face? - things can get very immature), whereas liberl-minded people tend to be put off by such things and are less tolerant when the party they identify with do the attack ads being as they are more interested in discussing social programs/policy than power for its own sake.


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