5. A Modelling Commentary on the News, 'MCN' (May to June 2012)

The coverage of news in the media contains almost no social modelling. To remedy this, occasional brief comments are offered looking at the news from a social modelling perspective.


7 The size of the state, taxation and the politics of envy                    13th June 2012


6 A love killing? ... honour killings                                                     11th June 2012

Culture and morality: absolute or relative? A state-probability-value model


5 Beijing cuts rates as Fed waits; Obama: Europe risks a spiral of decline;

Rajoy hails rescue as victory; Eight out of ten Britons want a vote on Europe

Dynamic models of interconnected systems                                      11th June 2012


4 ‘Source of moral values’? ... or ‘one long celebration of violence’? (SM9) 5th June 2012

The Positive Speaking Quotient (PSQ): Sachs 63%; Moses 21%; Jesus 66%


3 The ordination of women bishops ...                                                  29th May 2012

... and the propositional calculus


2 Three parties and three swings                                                            3rd May 2012

Using simple algebra to understand the numbers


1 Local election results 2012                                                                 5th May 2012

Times series and point comparisons





7 The size of the state, taxation and the politics of envy    13th June 2012


‘‘At the moment we are having a pretty big argument about the size of the State and who should be taxed and what the right levels of taxation are’ said Chancellor George Osbourne. The economic crisis had encouraged a politics of envy.’

The Times (2012) Chancellor to business: back us on lower taxes. June 13. pp. 1, 6-7


Is the top rate of tax too high? On a BBC Question Time programme some weeks ago I was startled to hear John Redwood say that he would like the rich to pay more. Cutting the top rate of tax would, he said, encourage the rich to pay more tax ...


I want to reflect on the situation in abstract. There is inequality – there is a set of individuals with asymmetric relations. Some people have more of a valued good than others: the rich have more wealth than the poor. Indeed there is a fine gradation of wealth and income. The rich want more and the poor want more. To some extent both groups can obtain more by cooperation. To some extent each group can obtain more at the expense of the other group.  When the rich want more, critics might characterise it as ‘greed’ and defenders might characterise the criticism as ‘envy’. One might refer to ‘a politics of greed’ or ‘a politics of envy’. However greed and envy are different from justification and criticism of the rich having more. The fundamental questions are: what should be the distribution of income and wealth?; and what should be done about it?


6 A love killing? ... honour killings                                                     11th June 2012

Culture and morality: absolute or relative? A state-probability-value model


A girl of fifteen is stabbed to death at a party. She had been having a two-year ‘on and off’ relationship with her boyfriend, 19. No-one has as yet been charged.

(The Times, 2012, Teen murder inquiry, June 11, p. 4)

Heshu stabbed by her father 17 times; Banaz’s family planned to kill her because she had a boyfriend; Saima was put on the child protection register when she was 14 after her parents beat her for speaking to a boy.

(The Times 2, 2012, Murder most foul, June 11, pp. 4-5)


These events appear paradoxical: why would I kill the person I love? why would I kill a person to safeguard my honour? It may be that I have simply lost control of my actions and once I have cooled down I realise my error. Alternatively it may be that both before and after the murder I have a carefully argued justification based on my personal value system. Furthermore it may be that my justification is consistent with the culture I belong to and its value system. Do you agree with me? If not, how would you argue against my actions? On what basis would you argue that your arguments are better than mine?


Here is my justification:

‘I murdered [my sister]. Because she shamed me for the rest of my life and if I didn’t murder her I would die every day. Because everything in life can be replaced, but if honor is lost, it never returns ...

If it happened to you, what would you do? Wouldn’t you do the same?’

(discussed in Burt, 2010, p. 19).


Perhaps you think my value system and the value system of my culture is bad in that it has bad consequences. An example of this view is Steve Pinker’s view that honour-based cultures promote violence and that the decline of honour-based cultures is associated with a decline of violence. The importance he attaches to this is indicated by the entries for ‘honor’ in the index to his book.


Honor 232, 247

Culture of, 22-23, 56, 72, 85, 98, 99-102, 106, 257, 261-263, 266, 363, 487, 516, 592, 681, 686-687

Duelling, 22-23, 248

Military codes of, 334


But is my culture bad? Can you prove it is bad? Is it any worse than your culture? You let your daughters go to parties and have boy friends and be stabbed to death. Your culture too used to value ‘honour’.


... Violence and social distance. A girl friend dies at a party ... a daughter dies because she had a boyfriend. These specific cases illustrate a general phenomenon: people are murdered by those they are close to. This is sometimes thought surprising. However it has a parallel in conflict research which finds that war is more likely between a pair of countries the closer these two countries are to one another. Burt (2010, pp. 230-233) notes that closer countries interact more; greater interaction allows greater levels of activity in a variety of spheres ... in particular greater levels of cooperation and greater levels of conflict.


One simple model of this is as follows.

.(1) Murder probability Q in a period of calendar time increases with duration T of the period.

Consider individuals A and B, denoting ‘A murders B’ by m(A,B). Let p(m(A,B)) be the probability that A murders B in an interval of time t. So the probability of no murder in time t is q(m(A,B))=1-p(m(A,B)). The probability Q of no murder in a period of time T=nt is Q=qn=qT/t=(1-p)T/t. The greater the period of time T the lower the likelihood of no murder Q.

.(2) More specifically, murder probability Q in a period of time T increases with contact time T* of contact in that period.

.(3) The greater the social closeness the greater the contact time T*.


[to be continued]




Burt, G. (2010) Conflict, complexity and mathematical social science. Bingley: Emerald Books


Pinker, S. (2011) The better angels of our nature. The decline of violence in history and its causes. London: Allen Lane.



5 Beijing cuts rates as Fed waits; Obama: Europe risks a spiral of decline;

Rajoy hails rescue as victory; Eight out of ten Britons want a vote on Europe

Dynamic models of interconnected systems                                      11th June 2012

Financial Times, 8.6.12, p. 1; The Daily Telegraph, 9.6.12, p. 1; Financial Times, 11.6.12, p. 1; The Times, 11.6.12, p.1.

I understand very little about the current global financial crisis. However there seem to be some features which the situation shares with other social situations. Consider the notion of a ‘spiral of decline’. Firstly there is the mutual connectedness of the parts of the system. What happens in one part of the system affects what happens elsewhere. There is also mutual value. Growth there promotes growth here; and decline there promotes decline here. This is reflected in decisions: growth decisions there promote growth decisions here, etc. Decisions are based on anticipations: anticipations of growth there promote growth decisions here. Although all benefit from growth decisions by all, growth decision by only one or a few may cause additional disbenefit for those doing so. For this reason coordination to lift the global economy out of low growth is a challenge, just as is coordination to lift the stockmarket, coordination to reduce global warming or coordination to reduce global arms expenditure. Models of this are classical and complexity models of stockmarket prices, prisoner’s dilemma game models, Richardson arms race models etc.



3 The ordination of women bishops ...                                               29th May 2012

... and the propositional calculus


‘For those opposed, it is not good enough for a bishop merely to be a man. He must also be able to prove that at no point in his ministry has he been consecrated by a woman bishop, or by another man who was in turn consecrated by a woman bishop. This is known as the concept of ‘taint’.’

The Times (2012) ‘Right of refusal’ jeopardises ordination of women bishops. Tuesday May 29, p. 7.


Some argue that this follows from the biblical record that all Christ’s disciples were men. Others argue that it follows from the writings of St Paul who said that the man must be the head of woman.


What interests me here is the use of inference. A certain statement (or set of statements) P is assumed to be valid. Another statement Q is claimed to be valid and that claim is justified by the claim of an inferential link, ‘P implies Q’, between the two statements. This is the modus ponens rule of inference in the propositional calculus (Burt, 2010, pp. 42-44):


Proposition P is true.

‘P implies Q’ is true.

Therefore proposition Q is true.


P:                     All Christ’s disciples were men.

P implies Q:     ‘All Christ’s disciples were men’ implies ‘all consecrated bishops

.                       should be men’.

Q:                    All consecrated bishops should be men.


The various parties* disagree about the validity of Q but presumably agree about the validity of P. Therefore the source of the disagreement is about the inference ‘P implies Q’.

.* ‘senior figures in the Church of England’, Archbishop of Canterbury, House of Bishops, Women and the Church, General Synod, Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes


The formulation given above is also of interest in that statement P is a statement of fact and statement Q is a statement of value. The fact-value distinction was emphasised by philosopher David Hume who argued that it was impossible to infer a statement of value from a statement of fact. So either the inference ‘P implies Q’ is not valid or there is some additional value statement which is assumed in the argument.


Also in play is another argument which has the abstract form ‘P implies Q’:

A:                    Authority A makes statement S.

A implies S:     ‘Authority A makes statement S’ implies ‘Statement S is true’.

S:                     Statement S is true.

Two such authorities are referred to above, namely the biblical record and the writings of St Paul. We may define a perfect authority to be one whose statements are always true; a probabilistic-p authority to be one each of whose statements has a probability p of being true. The likelihood of a probabilistic-p authority making a set of n true statements is pn. In other words the more statements that are made the greater the likelihood that at least one of the statements is false ... and the greater likelihood that the above rule of inference, ‘A implies S’, is not valid.

One way of demonstrating that a particular authority is not perfect is to identify an internal contradiction in the statements of the authority – in other words a pair of statements each of which implies the negative of the other. A particular example of this would be a pair of statements, P and not-P.

It may be (and I am not sure about this) that an example of internal contradiction in the bible is provided by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (St Matthew, Chapter 5). The phrasing ‘Ye have heard that it was said (X). But I say unto you (Y).’ The statements X refer back to Moses’ statements such as the ten commandments in Deuteronomy (the fifth book of Moses in the old testament). In some cases Y is an extension of X rather than a contradiction of X. However the following are clear contradictions of X (does X occur somewhere in the bible?):

’38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;

39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’


‘43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies ...’

A final general point is that valid arguments are rare. Strong conclusions and weak arguments are common. This arises because the demand for specific conclusions is much greater than the supply of valid arguments.

In the above we have covered the following points.

assumed statements and derived statements

rules of inference

statements of value cannot be derived from statements of fact

the low likelihood of a large set of statements all being true

internal contradiction

valid arguments are rare

strong conclusions and weak arguments are common



Three parties and three swings                                                        3rd May 2012

Using simple algebra to understand the numbers


The BBC presented Election Night at 11.30pm and Jeremy was presenting the statistics. He presented times series for the three main parties and their three swings. So it was quite a complicated message. It was possibly successful at giving the general impression of parties’ fortunes fluctuating quite dramatically over the years and being related to one another, and being associated with whichever party was in power. Here though I seek a deeper understanding of the numbers by using mathematics - specifically using simple algebra ...

... this thought prompted Social Modelling Note 4 (SM4)

SM4 Basic concepts: electorate and voters; percentages and z-scores; change and needed change; swing and flow; a set of constituencies

     (5 pages)



Local election results 2012                                                                5th May 2012

Times series and point comparisons


The newspaper headlines report ‘revival’ for Labour, ‘drubbing’ for Conservatives and ‘identity crisis’ for the Coalition. But how do these words relate to the statistics? The percentage vote for the parties fluctuates over time. So the magnitude of change depends on which two points in time are chosen for comparison. A look at the whole time series gives a better insight.

(The situation is complicated in that some councils had all seats up for election, others had half their seats up for election and still others had just half their seats up for election. Note too that the standard term of office is four years – hence the practical relevance of the 2008 to 2012 comparison)


from 26-27 April 2012 to 3 May 2012:

Consider the YouGov survey a week before the elections and (although they are not strictly comparable) compare the results with the actual election.

The Conservative share has risen from 29% to 31%; the Liberal Democrat has risen from 10% to 16%; the Labour share has fallen from 40% to 38%; and the Others share has fallen from 20% to 15%.


from 2011 to 2012:

The Conservative share has fallen from 38% to 31%. However the Labour share and the Liberal Democrat share has stayed much the same: Labour up from 37% to 38%; and Liberal Democrat up from 15% to 16%. So the fall of the Conservatives is almost totally due to the rise of Others: up from 10% to 15%. (Note: UKIP share was 13%)


from 2008 to 2012:

The Conservative share has fallen from 44% to 31%; and the Liberal Democrat share has fallen from 25% to 16%. However the Labour share has risen from 24% to 38%; and Others share from 7% to 15%.


between 2004 and 2012:

When Labour was in office up to 2010, fortunes fluctuated within a relatively limited range: Conservatives between 35% and 44%; Labour between 23% and 28%; Liberal Democrat between 25% and 28%; and Others between 7% and 12%. The figures broke outside these limits when the Coalition took office. Labour rose to 37% in 2011 (from 27% in 2010), Liberal Democrats fell to 15% in 2011 (from 26% in 2010); and now Conservatives have fallen to 31% in 2012 (from 35% in 2010 and 38% in 2011), while Others have risen to 15% (from 12% in 2010 and 10% in 2011).


Table 1 UK Local Elections, 2004-2012, % vote.      Source: Wikipedia



                               Cons         Labour      LibDem      Others

















































The newspaper front page headlines:


Cameron rejects Tory calls for right turn after Labour’s electoral success (FT)

Huge Labour gains leave Coalition with identity crisis (The Independent)

Cameron faces Tory backlash after poll drubbing (The Daily Telegraph)

Coalition humbled by Labour revival (The Times)

Election drubbing piles pressure on Cameron (The Guardian)