Mechanical

Negative Population Idiots

I was browsing a Web site dedicated to Negative Population Growth (NPG) and was getting highly amused. One of my favorite quotes was from their What is NPG page:

NPG's hard-hitting media campaigns have been instrumental in raising public awareness of the dangers of U.S. overpopulation and mobilizing Americans to demand effective action to avert the threat of continued population growth.

Hard-hitting media campaigns? Given that I don't watch TV, I concede it's possible I'm missed the media blitz, but I don't think so. Maybe it's a covert hard-hitting media campaign. Maybe it really is hard-hitting but one of their interns accidentally deleted it. Who knows?

Of course, if you wade through their very difficult to follow site, you can eventually find their Frequently Asked Questions page. Given that their "What Is NPG" page also mentioned their original research by some of the movement's finest scholars, I hoped to find some hard good information here. I confess that I was a bit skeptical when I read this:

NPG has surveyed scientists over 30 years and asked: What’s the optimum population size before you start exceeding an area’s carrying capacity and harming the environment? The scientific consensus is that 150-200 million is the ideal population size for the U.S.

I saw that number a couple of times on their site but they never backed it up. Is there really scientific consensus on this issue or is NPG playing proctologist with a flashlight in their quest for numbers? I suspect the latter, after reading their response to the one percent US population growth (also in the faq).

Although an increase of one percent may sound small, such a rate is monumental when talking about a population the size of the United States. A one percent increase means 2.9 million new people in a year and 29 million in a decade.

Really? They appear to have forgotten that every year's one percent is based on a larger population. Assuming we start with a population of 290 million:

1Population:292900000
Difference:2900000
2Population:295829000
Difference:5829000
3Population:298787290
Difference:8787290
4Population:301775162
Difference:11775162
5Population:304792914
Difference:14792914
6Population:307840843
Difference:17840843
7Population:310919252
Difference:20919252
8Population:314028444
Difference:24028444
9Population:317168729
Difference:27168729
10Population:320340416
Difference:30340416

Ironically, their inability to do basic math weakened their argument. Their estimate is too low by 1.34 million people. If this is what their movement's finest scholars come up with, I'll pass.

Update: Fixed typo that littlebluedog pointed out.

  • Current Mood: amused amused
From your numbers, looks to be more like an error of 3.03 million?

(Your number after 10 years of 1.01 growth rate = 32,034,042; their number after a decade = 29,000,000.)

(Also I think there are one too many zeros in your "Population" field?)
The population figure it correct. Remember, a million is one followed by 6 zeros (1,000,000).

As for the math, I was figuring the difference between the populations, not the difference in the increase (the delta of the delta?):

320,340,416 - 290,000,000 = 30,340,416

That means we have an extra 30 million people.

If you take my difference figure of 30,340,416 versus their 29 million figure:

30,340,416 - 29,000,000 = 1,340,416
Remember, a million is one followed by 6 zeros (1,000,000).

I remember that much from high school. :)

I think my confusion was your sentence right before the table ("Assuming we start with a population of 29 million") ... should it have read 290 million?
I agree that they got it wrong, but at the same time, the difference seems pretty insignificant to me.
The reason it's significant is their claim to original research by scholars. They assert that increasing 290 million people by one percent for 10 years results in a 29 million increase in population. They screwed up summing a series of ten elements. That's basic math. If they can't get that right, I'm less inclined to trust other data they present. They're sloppy. This is something that is seen commonly in pseudo-science. Some crackpot comes along and talks about "water memory" or "Jupiter's gravitational effect on our behavior" and people who know better are afraid to call bullshit for fear of sounding pedantic or close-minded.

In this case, the idea of negative population growth may sound reasonable, even if one doesn't agree with it. However, we still need to be vigilant about teaching people to watch for the small errors because those often mask big ones. More and more people are avoiding rational thought and accusing others of being close-minded for asking "where's the beef." This is sad.

This isn't to say that the other data presented on that site is wrong, but so far, they strike me as a bunch of amateurs trying to make themselves look important.
Well, I agree with all that. I guess I was proceeding from the assumption that they were basically 'amateurs' anyways. Generally speaking, legitimate researchers don't publicize their work by creating a website. Instead they go through the proper channels of publication in peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Additionally, a proper scientific effort would have acknowledged that all of those numbers have an intrinsic margin of error, which is where the final difference between 319,000,00 and 320,340,416 would have been insignificant due to likely being within the margin of error for the calculation.
Does this make any sense? Basically I'm agreeing with you that they're amateurs, but that doesn't necessarily invalidate their entire point. If one wants to delve into it further, they should still seek out more scientifically legitimate sources of data.