What’s the deal with Brexit anyway?

I know you don’t come here for insights in Brexit, but I really wanted to share this Zack Beauchamp piece as it is easily the most succinct explanation of the key issues that I have read:

Theresa May was asked to turn a campaign of lies into political reality

Theresa May was not prime minister when the initial referendum on leaving the UK was held back in June 2016. Her predecessor, Conservative PM David Cameron, had supported staying in the EU. His gamble was that UK voters would vote to stay and the pressure to leave from Conservative hardliners and the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) would dissipate.

Some of those promises, like the health care spending numbers, were exposed as lies the day after the Brexit vote. But the British people had just voted to leave the EU to usher in utopia, and Theresa May was brought in to make that a reality.

To do so, she would need to thread a needle: somehow minimize the hit to the British economy by keeping as much access to EU markets as possible while simultaneously removing the UK from as many EU rules and regulations as possible to fulfill the “take back control” promise.

The problem was that there was a direct trade-off between these two goals. The EU negotiators didn’t want to allow Britain unfettered access to EU markets while it made its own rules on everything from immigration to product standards; that would be giving them a better deal than EU members. So there needed to be some kind of compromise.

The deal that Parliament voted on Tuesday was full of such compromises. It punted on a lot of central issues, including immigration, but allowed the UK to leave while keeping enough EU rules in place to avoid immediate catastrophe.

But even this was too much for the pro-Brexit Conservatives, who believed May was selling out to the Eurocrats. Their most heated objections focused on the so-called “Irish backstop,” a complicated provision designed to keep the border between the Republic of Ireland (an EU member) and British-controlled Northern Ireland open indefinitely.

The Brexiteers believed the backstop would force the UK to adhere to a number of EU trade and migration regulations for years — and they had a point. The problem is that the backstop was nonnegotiable for Ireland and the broader EU, which refused to grant Britain the power to unilaterally screw up a very tense border arrangement in a part of the world that has been wracked by conflict as recently as 1998.

This is the specific issue, more than any other, that caused more than 100 Conservative legislators to betray their prime minister and vote with the left-wing Labour opposition to defeat May’s Brexit deal. But focusing too much on the Ireland situation would be a mistake. Remember, this deal didn’t even settle the UK’s final status on thorny issues such as migration from EU member states; it left that decision to future negotiators to decide. There were any number of different specific, technical issues on which May could not have satisfied the EU without betraying the Brexiteers, and vice versa.

The fundamental and insurmountable problem is that Brexit was premised on a fantasy — a painless withdrawal from the European Union — that no prime minister could have delivered. Theresa May is no one’s idea of a great negotiator, but her fundamental project — a negotiated settlement to the Brexit situation — was doomed for structural reasons beyond her control. [emphasis mine]

Screens (and potatoes) are ruining our mental health

There’s been a lot of interesting research on the relationship between screen time and mental health, but it is all correlational and pretty hard to tease out truly solid conclusions.  Of course, this is exactly the sort of issue where a modest, but statistically significant correlation can get overblown into explaining everything.  Now, I definitely think there’s all sorts of reasons we think hard about how and why kids and adolescents especially use screens, but there’s also no cause for a moral panic at this point.

Really good piece in Wired discussing the latest research:

PSYCHOLOGISTS CAN’T SEEM to agree on what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.

As if that uncertainty weren’t vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant data sets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones.”…

Whether they realize it or not, a researcher who chooses to focus only on certain questions is making a decision to pursue one analytical path at the exclusion of many, many others. How many? In the case of the MCS, combining the survey’s questions on well-being with those on things like TV watching, videogame habits, and social media use produces a total of 603,979,752 analytical paths a researcher could take. Combine them with questions directed to the caregivers of study participants, and that figure balloons to 2.5 trillion.

Granted, the vast majority of those 2.5 trillion results are not all that interesting. But the sprawling nature of these data sets allows for associations to emerge that are technically statistically significant but are very, very small. In science, large sample sizes are generally considered to be a good thing. Yet when you combine the large number of analytical paths afforded by subjective survey questions with an enormous number of survey participants, it opens the door to statistical skullduggery like p-hacking—the practice of fishing for favorable results in a large set of data…

The result was a series of visualizations that map the wide gamut of potential effects researchers could detect in the three repositories, and they reveal several important things: One, that small changes in analytical approach can lead to dramatically different findings along that spectrum. Two, that the correlation between technology use and well-being is negative. And three, that this correlation is very, very small, explaining—at most—0.4 percent of the variation in adolescent well-being.

To put it in perspective, the researchers compared the link between technology use and adolescent well-being to that of other factors examined by the large-scale data sets. “Using technology is about as associated with well-being as eating potatoes,” Przybylski says. In other words: hardly at all. By the same logic, bullying had an effect size four times greater than screen use. Smoking cigarettes? 18 times. Conversely, getting enough sleep and eating breakfast were positively associated with adolescent well-being at a magnitude 44 and 30 times that of technology use, respectively.

Put another way: Technology’s impact on well-being might be statistically significant, but its practical significance—according to existing data sets—appears negligible. [emphasis mine]

I love this take.  Way back when I first learned the magical arts of social science statistics we talked a lot about statistical significance versus substantive significance.  The reality is that it is far too easy to get hung up on statistical significance even when the practical effect of a result would be pretty modest.

I suspect that we’ll come to find that too much screen time– of particular sorts– really is notably worse for you than eating potatoes.  But for now, we just don’t really know.

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