On Confirmation Bias.

Dave Killion — December 15, 2010

There are few areas in which good judgement and discretion are more important than charity, yet when charity is dispensed through the state, the results are similar to chainsaw surgery.  It is, therefore, particularly irritating to me when people accept and promote obviously bad evidence when they believe it supports their endorsement of state-distributed charity.  Jody Paterson is just such a person, and has recently provided two such examples.

In her December 9 post, Paterson links to an article in The Tyee which links to an article by Social Policy in Ontario (SPON) which references an article in The Globe and Mail to which no link is provided.  According to SPON, the Globe and Mail article reports that recent OECD data on infant mortality show Canada falling from its 6th place rank to 24th.  The death rate of infants less than one year of age is reported as 5.1 per 1,000, which is apparently seen by some as “shockingly high”.  The Tyee article then goes on to allege that Canada has been suffering rising inequality, which produces all sorts of adverse consequences, including more infants dying unnecessarily.  Paterson gobbles it up, but since I’m a skeptic, I have to ask – where is the link to the OECD data?

This is important, because I know there are a lot of different ways to count infant mortality, and that can make nation-to-nation comparisons tricky.  So, I did a simple search and found that infant mortality in Canada has declined precipitously since 1960, and has been stable for the last 15 years.  This means even if allegations of increasing inequality have merit , Canada’s lost rankings come not from an increase in infant mortality within Canada but from a decrease in other countries.  This should be heralded as a great triumph, but is instead being misrepresented as a failure for the sake of promoting class warfare.

The Nov. 18 post is similar, with Paterson citing the HungerCount 2010 survey documenting increased use of this country’s food banks as evidence of increased poverty.  But as Rick August from The Frontier Centre for Public Policy points out, food bank use and poverty are two separate issues.  In short, as long as you are going to give away free food, more and more people are going to take it.  That doesn’t mean poverty is increasing.

Paterson hopes to get more support for increased government redistribution of private resources, but based on the evidence she provides, I’m surprised she can even convince herself.

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