Thomas Sowell's Poor Scholarship

Today I read some of "A Conflict of Visions" by Thomas Sowell with a particular interest in what he would say about Godwin and Burke. I was very disappointed, and was concerned about his accuracy. So, I checked up on two of his footnotes. In both cases he misrepresented the original text.

Sowell writes (page 23):
Unintentional social benefits were treated by Godwin as scarcely worthy of notice.[12]
Here is what Godwin actually says (Political Justice, Volume 1, Page 433):
Virtue requires a certain disposition and view of the mind, and does not belong to the good which may accidentally and unintentionally result from our proceeding. The creditor that, from pure hardness of disposition, should cast a man into prison who, unknown to him, was upon the point of committing some atrocious and sanguinary action, would not be virtuous but vicious. This mischief to result from the project of his debtor, was no part in his motive; the thought only of gratifying his inordinate passion.
Godwin is not arguing that unintentional social benefits are unimportant. He is arguing against the theory that all actions should be judged purely by their consequences; intentions matter and people should not be given moral credit for lucky accidents. Sowell has misrepresented Godwin.

Sowell writes (page 25):
"Nothing is good," Burke said, "but in proportion, and with reference"[20]--in short, as a trade-off.
Sowell is representing Burke as saying that nothing is good except trade-offs. Here is what Burke said with the preceding sentence included:

http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA412&lpg=PA411&dq=%22but+in+proportion+and+with+reference%22&id=72QZunsrU3EC&ots=zfowb_ZcSF#PPA411,M1
All I recommend is, that whenever the sacrifice of any subordinate point of morality, or of honour, or even of common liberal sentiment and feeling is called for, one ought to be tolerably sure that the object is worth it. Nothing is good, but in proportion and with reference.
Burke is saying that if we make a trade-off, we should be sure it's worth it. That does not mean that only trade-offs are good, it only means that we better not ignore proportion or reference. Sowell has misrepresented Burke.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Atrocious Burke Scholarship

The Portable Edmund Burke edited by Isaac Kramnick states on page xxviii of the introduction that:
Beginning in 1929 and 1930, Burke's reputation was subjected to the most serious assault on it since the radical crew of Wollstonecraft, Priestly, Paine, William Godwin, and others had finished with it one hundred and thirty-five years earlier.
This is false. Godwin did not assault Burke's reputation. Here is a well known quote by Godwin about Burke:

http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/godwin/pj8/pj8_10.html
Whilst this sheet is in the press for the third impression, I receive the intelligence of the death of Burke, who was principally in the author's mind, while he penned the preceding sentences. In all that is most exalted in talents, I regard him as the inferior of no man that ever adorned the face of earth; and, in the long record of human genius, I can find for him very few equals. In sublety of discrimination, in magnitude of conception, in sagacity and profoundness of judgement, he was never surpassed.
This was followed with a bit of criticism; Godwin considered Burke to be one of the best men ever, but flawed. There is no way to take it as an assault on Burke's reputation. Godwin also praised Burke on several other occasions.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship: Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin

After reading Merchants of Despair, I decided to do some fact checking and to learn about some of the topics in more detail. I started in chapter 1 about Malthus. I found serious scholarly errors. Next I skipped to material about population control and President Lyndon Johnson. Again I found serious scholarly errors. I have not fact checked the rest of the book; I did not fact check any other part and find it was OK. Topics I already knew something about (DDT, nuclear power, Julian Simon's bet about resource prices) seemed correct when I first read them. I think the book is approximately correct in general claims and has some good philosophical ideas, but it gets a lot of details wrong. Do not trust its specifics. Educate yourself by reading further books on the topics that interest you.

Below I detail some scholarly errors I found. I only checked a small amount of material to find these. If we assume the rate of errors is representative of the rest of the book, then that's really quite bad.

Malthus

Zubrin does Malthus fast and hard, and then talks about what is "Malthusian" throughout the rest of the book, relying on the early presentation of Malthus in chapter 1. In chapter 1, he provides only two Malthus quotes. After that he moves on to quoting people he identifies as Malthusians. Both Malthus quotes are misquotes. He also provides a very clear and direct paraphrase of Malthus, which he cites to two Malthus chapters. But Zubrin's story is a fantasy not backed up by his cites. This is very poor and unacceptable level of scholarly research.

First Malthus Misquote

Malthus prescribed specific policies to keep population down by raising the death rate:

[blockquote] We are bound in justice and honour to disclaim the right of the poor to support. . . . [W]e should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders.[3]

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 128-136). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
Malthus' view as presented is despicable. But it's both misquoted and taken out of context.

The actual quote can be found here:

Principle of Population Bk.IV Ch.V

Principle of Population Bk.IV Ch.VIII

This is the same edition Zubrin cites, see here:

Principle of Population, Card Catalog Information

Why can it be found in two different chapters? Because Zubrin took two different Malthus quotes and combined them into one quote for his book. Then he cited it as if it was just one quote from book 4 chapter 5.

The first part of what Zubrin quotes, before the ellipsis, is actually from three chapters later. And it's edited. The bulk of the quote, starting at "[W]e should facilitate" is a correct quote in the literal sense but completely out of context and misleading. But besides being out of context, Zubrin doctored it by adding an initial sentence, from elsewhere in the book, which he also changed the wording of. This is an unacceptable distortion of the facts.

Besides moving a Malthus sentence out of context, Zubrin edited it. It actually reads (from 4.8):
As a previous step even to any considerable alteration in the present system, which would contract or stop the increase of the relief to be given, it appears to me that we are bound in justice and honour formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support.
Zubrin made the following changes:

He started mid-sentence while giving no indication of doing so.

He changed "we" to "We". This is especially misleading because immediately afterwards he uses "[W]e" to indicate the same type of change. Since he indicates it the other time, you would expect him to indicate it other times. This sort of inconsistency in quoting practices is extra misleading to the reader.

He deleted the word "formally".

He un-italicized the word "right".

These things make it a serious misquote. Plus he moved it three chapters earlier out of context. When he cited the quote, he did not cite the chapter this actually comes from, only the chapter the other part of his supposed-quote is from. This is very unscholarly.

But it gets worse. Did Malthus really want plague? No. His argument is structured like this: (I haven't read the whole book but I read enough to get the basic idea and see that Zubrin had this part wrong, you can get a lot of context from the two chapters prior to the one Zubrin quotes. 4.3 and 4.4)

What we need is moral restraint. Do not marry and have kids if you can't afford them. The poor laws are bad because they subsidize having kids you can't afford and they make promises they can't keep. What are the alternatives to moral restraint? Nothing good because of limited resources. Too big a population will lead to famine. Or if we don't want big nasty famines, then the logical consequence is we should keep people dying off regularly from plague, disease, dirtiness, crowding, malaria, etc... But Malthus is not advocating that, he's saying it's the consequences of lack of moral restraint. What he's advocating is moral restraint.

So Malthus was saying, "If we don't do what I'm suggesting, then what happens? All this bad stuff." And Zubrin has quoted that bad stuff out of context and said it's what Malthus was proposing. That's utterly wrong.

Second Malthus Misquote

In a letter to economist David Ricardo, Malthus laid out the basis for this policy: “The land in Ireland is infinitely more peopled than in England; and to give full effect to the natural resources of the country, a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.”[12]

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 189-191). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
This is commonly misquoted. Maybe Zubrin didn't know any better. He cited a secondary source for this which I haven't checked. Regardless, he's guilty of bad scholarship. He should have checked a primary source whenever he could instead of relying on secondary sources. If I can find out the truth of this one just with Google, he ought to have been able to find out too using Google, book writing skills, libraries, and his swarm of interns:
I wish to acknowledge my debt to New Atlantis interns A. Barrett Bowdre, Elias Brockman, Nathaniel J. Cochran, Jonathan Coppage, Brendan Foht, and Edward A. Rubin, who put in many weeks at the Library of Congress verifying, and where necessary correcting, every fact, quote, and footnote in this book.

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 3693-3695). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
Many weeks of work verifying "every fact, quote, and footnote"? Well, I believe they tried, but it was shoddy work that, sadly, overall, failed at its task.

This Malthus quote is edited, truncated, and taken out of context. This gives the false impression that Malthus wanted lots of people dead. "Swept from the soil" sounds like killed or at least gone. He didn't want them to live and exist anymore. Except that isn't what Malthus actually said or meant. The full quote, in context, is completely different and is part of a dry, economics discussion. It has nothing to do with genocide. But Zubrin falsely presents Malthus as genocidal using this fake quote (twice).

The full quote can easily be found with Google by any researcher (no doubt libraries have it too! e.g. the Library of Congress which Zubrin sent a bunch of interns to). I found it on these four webpages: one, two, three, four.

The most informative one actually explains the issue of this passage being misquoted:
An examination of the full text of this letter finds Malthus's intent to be far different that [sic] the one implied by the truncated wording commonly used by Mokyr and others. As a reading of the whole letter makes clear, in this correspondence Malthus was conveying his surprise that the Irish economy was not as bad as he had been led to expect. He commented earlier in the letter that "[t]hough the distress was certainly great, it was I think on the whole less than I expected." Referring particularly to the south, where he had toured through Tipperary, Waterford, Kerry, and Limerick, Malthus noted that "great marks of improvement were observable." It is in this context that Malthus undertook his observation on the Irish population that Mokyr cites. In this section of the letter, Malthus was reflection not on overpopulation and hunger, but rather on employment and wages. He noted that Ireland possesses "a population greatly in excess above the demand for labor." In this context, Malthus went on to make an economic argument concerning the distribution of labor "[t]he Land in Ireland is infinitely more peopled than in England; and to give full effect to the natural resources of the country, a great part of the this population should be swept from the soil into large manufacturing and commercial Towns."[11] In examining the unedited quotation, it is clearer why Malthus emphasized the word Land in his letter, to very explicitly contrast it to the towns mentioned in the frequently elided ending phrase. The central issue here for Malthus was not the absolute scale of the population of Ireland, but rather its concentration in agriculture rather than industry. As this example well illustrates, the tendency to misread Malthus as a Malthusian is strong, especially in the wake of the Great Hunger.[12]
I'm not sure what he means about misreading "Malthus as a Malthusian". But in any case, Zubrin lowercased the word "Land" (I'm unsure what is italicized in the original which I don't have a copy of), Zubrin omitted the context, and Zubrin incorrectly presented the quote as ending on the word "soil" without revealing that Malthus wanted to sweep them off the Land into Towns for economic reasons, rather than wanting genocide as Zubrin falsely implies. Overall, it means one thing and Zubrin misquoted it to mean something else very different.

Malthus False Summary

In short, Malthus argued that we should do whatever we can to encourage disease, and we should condemn doctors who try to find cures. In addition, everything should be done to keep the wages of working people as low as possible.[4]

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 137-138). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
And the source on that:
3 Thomas Malthus, Essay on Population, 6th ed. (London: John Murray, 1826), bk. IV, chap. 5,300–301.
4 Ibid., bk. iii, chap.7, especially 371–375; ibid., bk. iv, chap. 1.

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 3716-3718). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
So, to see if Zubrin's summary was accurate, I read those chapters (3.7 and 4.1), in the 6th edition from 1826. They are available here:

Principle of Population Bk.III Ch.VII

Principle of Population Bk.IV Ch.I

One of the problems here is it's hard to tell which text the citation is intended to cover. At first I thought it was covering both sentences. But what Zubrin says here about disease and doctors isn't in the cited chapters (3.7 and 4.1). I've now figured out the disease sentence is referring to the previous misquote (in which Malthus suggests we "court the return of the plague"). Whereas the wages sentence, which looks like it goes with the disease sentence, is actually separate and refers to a different part of the book, found in the footnote.

So far this is confusing but not actually a very big deal (though bear in mind that his summary about Malthus wanting to "encourage disease" is just as completely false as the implications of out of context quote. This is a summary only of Zubrin's total misreading of his misquote). But it gets worse. Zubrin summarized Malthus, "In addition, everything should be done to keep the wages of working people as low as possible." That is absolutely not what Malthus says in the cited chapters (3.7 and 4.1), which I read through specifically to check for this.

Zubrin provides primary source citations to give the superficial appearance of having done proper research. But he hasn't; he is misleading his reader. Books should not be traps to fool their readers!

I'd like to show you this with quotes but how do I quote Malthus to demonstrate that his text lacks the statements Zubrin says it has? Click the links and search them yourself on words like "wages", "low" or "possible". I did that in addition to reading the full chapters. Zubrin's claim about keeping wages as low as possible is just not there; Zubrin made it up and then falsely represented it as a summary of Malthus.

The closest Malthus comes is some economic arguments about how you can't make the poor rich with minimum wage laws. These bear no resemblance to Zubrin's supposed summary, but maybe Zubrin (who does not understand economics and praised minimum wage laws twice in the book) confused Malthus discussing facts of economics for Malthus trying to keep wages for the poor low. That's my best guess at what happened but there is really no excuse.

I'll try to give you a sense of what Malthus actually said when he talked about wages in 3.7 (I don't know why 4.1 was cited, it doesn't even mention wages and is irrelevant):
What I have really proposed is a very different measure. It is the gradual and very gradual abolition of the poor-laws. And the reason why I have ventured to suggest a proposition of this kind for consideration is my firm conviction, that they have lowered very decidedly the wages of the labouring classes, and made their general condition essentially worse than it would have been if these laws had never existed. [...]

To remedy the effects of this competition from the country, the artificers and manufacturers in towns have been apt to combine, with a view to keep up the price of labour, and to prevent persons from working below a certain rate. But such combinations are not only illegal, but irrational and ineffectual; and if the supply of workmen in any particular branch of trade be such as would naturally lower wages, the keeping them up forcibly must have the effect of throwing so many out of employment, as to make the expense of their support fully equal to the gain acquired by the higher wages, and thus render these higher wages in reference to the whole body perfectly futile.

It may be distinctly stated to be an absolute impossibility that all the different classes of society should be both well paid and fully employed, if the supply of labour on the whole exceed the demand; and as the poor-laws tend in the most marked manner to make the supply of labour exceed the demand for it, their effect must be, either to lower universally all wages, or, if some are kept up artificially, to throw great numbers of workmen out of employment, and thus constantly to increase the poverty and distress of the labouring classes of society.
Malthus wants to very gradually abolish the poor-laws, which he says have lowered the wages of the labouring classes and made their lives worse. His plan is to improve the lives of the workers and raise their wages by this reform! Zubrin said pretty much the opposite, that Malthus wants wages to be low; actually Malthus wants to improve wages. More generally, Malthus wasn't trying to make the poor miserable or kill them, and actually he wanted to improve their lives (by explaining moral restraint and reforming bad laws. Also by understanding resource limit, population growth and crop yield issues, about which Malthus was mistaken but not evil).

Malthus further discusses minimum wage laws, which he says are illegal, irrational and ineffectual. He tries to explain why they won't help the labourers. He basically says that if you force wages above the market rate, this causes unemployment and doesn't provide more wealth to the poor people overall as a group.

Zubrin's scholarship here was very bad and he misstated what Malthus was saying.

To clear things up about Malthus a bit more, in general, he meant well, at least according to his book (first edition preface):
If he [the author, Malthus himself] should succeed in drawing the attention of more able men, to what he conceives to be the principal difficulty in the way to the improvement of society, and should, in consequence, see this difficulty removed, even in theory, he will gladly retract his present opinions and rejoice in a conviction of his error.

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi arrived in Washington in late March and met first with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who handed her a memo requiring “a massive effort to control population growth” as a condition for food aid. Then on March 28, 1966, she met privately with the president. There is no record of their conversation, but it is evident that she capitulated completely.

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 2508-2510). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
False. Indira Gandhi was already in favor of population control before meeting with Lyndon Johnson. She did not "capitulate". Zubrin presents a false, anti-American picture in which the US pressures Indira Gandhi into semi-betraying her country accepting unwanted population control, in return for food aid (India was having a famine at this time).

Zubrin's anti-American story is based on his imagination, not historical facts. I learned this reading books which Zubrin himself cites, so you might expect him to have read them too. They clearly tell a different story, but Zubrin changed the story to make USA look worse and bias his book to have more of a "USA and other first world countries screw over the third world" slant (which is a theme throughout, with some truth to it, but apparently Zubrin is so committed to this cause that it matters to him more than facts do.)

Here's the real story:

The Coming Population Crash And Out Planet's Surprising Future, by Fred Pearce, p 60 (this is a book Zubrin cites and therefore ought to have read):
Johnson found an unexpected ally: the newly elected Indian prime minister, Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi. As minister of information, she had run aggressive family planning propaganda for her father. Now she wanted to do more than exhort. After the two leaders met in March 1966, Johnson reported back to Congress... [that they agreed about the population control agenda]
Since I discovered Fred Pearce is himself a poor scholar, I didn't know what to believe yet. So I checked Zubrin's source for this specific passage. It's Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly, p 222. Connelly backs up Pearce (and then some), while contradicting Zubrin.

Connelly says nothing about Indira Gandhi capitulating. Instead he says, p 222, "Johnson did not have to insist." Why not? Because of stuff like this, "the local USAID administrator noted that, under Gandhi and Mehta's leadership, 'more punch in very recent weeks is being added tot he Central Government's family planning program.'" Indira Gandhi was already in favor of population control without Johnson having to make her capitulate. The US didn't need to pressure her into it, she already wanted to do it to her own people.

There are more details in Connelly, p 221.
[Indira Gandhi] had wanted to donate her family's ancestral home in Allahabad so that it could become an Institute for Family Planning. As information minister, she had pressed a plan to distribute hundreds of thousands of radios across rural India to transmit family planning information. And Gandhi together with Rama Rau was also among those who had been pressuring Nayar to pay women to accept IUD insertion. [70]
After being elected, "Gandhi's interest in family planning was apparent in her first meeting with Ambassador Bowles. So too was her evident need for American help." Bowles said good relationships would require three things: 1) "peace with Pakistan" 2) "genuine and positive neutrality in the Cold War" 3) Connelly quotes his own source for this one, which says, "pragmatic economic policies ... giving high priority to agriculture, education and population planning." Connelly continues:
Gandhi replied that managing relations on this basis would be any "easy matter," promising to
"press hard on such programs as family planning." On January 25, 1966, the day after she was formally sworn into office, the Ministry of Health was renamed the Ministry of Health and Family Planning, including a separate department with its own permanent secretary and minister of state. [71]
Indira Gandhi did not implement population control measures under US pressure. She didn't capitulate. She was eager to do these things and got started right away, months prior to meeting Johnson. Zubrin misleads us in a way that contradicts his own sources.

Lyndon Johnson

Zubrin tells a story in which Johnson gets in office and then population control advocates want to get him on board with population control and have to persuade him.
To get President Johnson on board, [people showed Johnson a fraudulent study]

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Location 2281). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
In passing the study on to Bundy, Komer commented: “Here’s a little flank attack that I think might just penetrate LBJ’s defenses . . . . It might score.”[9]

It did. Johnson bought the claptrap, including the phony mathematical results. Two months later, he declared to the United Nations that “five dollars invested in population control is worth a hundred dollars invested in economic growth.” Having succeeded in this policy coup, “Blowtorch” Komer was promoted...

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 2287-2290). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
With the Johnson administration now backing population control, Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act in 1966...

Zubrin, Robert (2012-03-20). Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis Books) (Kindle Locations 2292-2293). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
Notice the date of 1966. The thing is, Johnson was already in favor of population control before this. I learned this, again, from a book Zubrin himself cites and presumably read.

The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. is a primary source book. California worked in the Johnson administration and tells about it firsthand. It says, p 154:
Previous presidents had either opposed mounting government birth-control programs, finessed the issue, or gingerly approved a little research on population control. Johnson himself had waited until he was elected in his own right to unveil his position. Then, in his January 4, 1965, State of the Union message, Johnson had said, "I will seek new ways to use our knowledge to help deal with the explosion in world population and the growing scarcity in world resources."
So who needs to trick Johnson with a "flank attack" and fraudulent study? He already agreed with their basic agenda enough to advocate it in major public speeches since since at least January 1965. Zubrin presents it as a "policy coup" to trick Johnson into believing a position he'd already been advocating. That's bad historical research, apparently including not paying much attention to Zubrin's own sources.

Conclusion

As we've seen, Zubrin has multiple misquotes and factual inaccuracies in the areas I checked. I fear the rest of the book may have a similar densities of serious errors. It strains credibility that I just happened to choose the only two poorly researched parts to investigate.



UPDATE: I sent this post to Robert Zubrin, author of Merchants of Despair. This is the full text of his reply:
So you are fine with the deaths of millions of Irish and Indians, under the
administration of British Malthusians, the murder of millions of Jews and
Slavs by German Malthusians, and the myriad ongoing worldwide crimes of
other Malthusians ever since.
I guess they were all misquoted too.
Incredible.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (14)

Bad Scholarship: Population Control by Steven W. Mosher

Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits by Steven W. Mosher, p 32
Such a fate [population catastrophe], Malthus argued, could only be avoided by stern, even pitiless, measures. [...] [Things got better in the Industrial Revolution e.g. lower death rate.] Malthus proposed to undo all this:

[blockquote] All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons.... Therefore ... we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate [I.e. reject -- this is from Mosher] specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders.

[Back to Mosher writing] These were strange, almost diabolical, views for a member of the Christian clergy to hold.
This is completely wrong. Details to follow:

The source it gives is a secondary source, a 1977 book. Why would you quote a secondary source for a very well known and easily available Malthus book? The full text is even free online now. This Mosher book came out in 2008 so I'm pretty sure it was already free online then too.

Quoting secondary sources, instead of primary, is bad practice for any kind of scholarly book. You should always use primary sources when they are available. Mosher wants to be a scholar; he gives lots of sources and notes for his book; but he's doing it wrong.

If you trust secondary sources some of them are going to be wrong. Like Mosher himself if someone trusted him on Malthus. Or like Zubrin or like the secondary source Mosher quoted.

Another problem with citing a secondary source is I can't tell what edition of Malthus' book he's quoting from without getting the secondary source book. Either he's quoting from an edition other than the 6th, or some words have been changed.

http://www.econlib.org/library/Malthus/malPlong30.html#Bk.IV,Ch.V

The 6th edition says "All the children born" instead of "All children born" and "keep up the population to this level" instead of "keep up the population to a desired level". Other than that it's the same.

Now on to the important part: this quote is taken out of context. The chapter title is this:

"Of the Consequences of pursuing the opposite Mode."

It is the "opposite mode" that Malthus is describing in the quote. He's not advocating it. It's the opposite of what he advocates. He's saying the consequences of not doing what he advocates (which is moral restraint) will be all these horrible things.

So basically Malthus said, "Do what I suggest (moral restraint), or all this horrible stuff is going to happen." Then Mosher quotes the horrible stuff and says Malthus wanted that horrible stuff.

By moral restraint, Malthus means people shouldn't marry and have children irresponsibily. They should have enough wealth to support a child before having that child. That's his favored solution to population problems. But Mosher claims Malthus' favored solution is plague and disease, and then calls Malthus a villain. This is just plain wrong and terrible research.

Zubrin did the same thing with almost the same quote. All of Zubrin's other Malthus quotes were wrong. And it's the same for Mosher. He provides one big out of context quote then moves on, considering the issue settled. When you're going to rely on a single quote or just a couple quotes, you need to get it right! This is so bad. People want to attack "Malthusians" in their book, so they include a section on Malthus, but they don't do any reasonable research and don't understand him at all and misquote him.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bad Scholarship: Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly

Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly:

Page 2 gives a Malthus quote which it cites to a secondary source instead of a primary source. This is bad. The following footnote, also about Malthus, cites a primary source -- the same one that first quote came from. So why doesn't the first quote cite the primary source he had access to? That makes no sense; I guess he just doesn't consider giving primary source citations a priority to care about...

Moving on we've got something really bad, page 2:
The tone of unremitting gloom [of Malthus in his essay] never lifted. "Misery and the fear of misery", were, for Malthus, "the necessary and inevitable results of the laws of nature in the present stage of man's existence." [2]
The cite directs us to the exact paragraph in an online primary source which is very nice. It is:
I am sufficiently aware that the redundant millions which I have mentioned could never have existed. It is a perfectly just observation of Mr. Godwin, that "there is a principle in human society by which population is perpetually kept down to the level of the means of subsistence." The sole question is, what is this principle? Is it some obscure and occult cause? Is it some mysterious interference of Heaven, which at a certain period strikes the men with impotence, and the women with barrenness? Or is it a cause open to our researches, within our view; a cause which has constantly been observed to operate, though with varied force, in every state in which man has been placed? Is it not misery and the fear of misery, the necessary and inevitable results of the laws of nature in the present stage of man's existence, which human institutions, so far from aggravating, have tended considerably to mitigate, though they can never remove?
The quote text is accurate but the meaning for it which Connelly conveys is wrong. If you look at the rest of the sentence which Connelly cut off without elipsis, Malthus is saying something positive: that human institutions do not aggravate misery but considerably mitigate (significantly reduce) it.

The topic of the paragraph -- the context -- is discussing the issue of what keeps the population down. Malthus proposes misery and fear of misery as the answer to the question: what keeps the population level low?

Malthus is not saying life is miserable. This isn't gloom. He's saying that this is an issue which is "open to our researches" -- we can figure out what's going on and do something about it. Then he further says how human institions reduce misery. So this isn't gloom, Connelly has simply taken the quote out of context and misread it.

This is rather bad considering the full paragraph (even the full rest of the sentence Connelly cut off with no indication) is enough context to see that Connelly has it wrong.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

ARI's False Statistics

What could your share of the national debt buy? The Ayn Rand Institute says 5558 iPhones.

ARI is using $199.99 as the price of an iPhone (16gb 5s). That is not what iPhones cost. They cost $199 (not $199.99) when you sign a contract agreeing to pay more money later. "Bill Me Later" type plans are not lower prices. The actual price is $649, meaning you could buy 1712 iPhones for your share of the national debt. (Which is still a ton, so why fudge the numbers?)

ARI's purpose is to complain about the large US national debt. By pointing out how big it is in concrete terms like 49 cars per American, they hope to help people understand it better. Campaigning for smaller government is a good cause. It should have the truth on its side. But using bullshit stats ruins that. Please don't taint good causes with irresponsibly sloppy, false claims.

In a competition with only true claims allowed, ideas like capitalism, liberalism, science and reason can win. In a competition of who can tell the most appealing lies, true ideas lose their inherent advantage. If you want to help promote the truth, stick to rational competitions only. Don't sanction irrational truth-ignoring competitions based around the most shocking headlines, popularity, social status, etc...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alex Epstein Scholarship Problem

Alex Epstein wrote:
In the US, 30 years ago the average household had 3 electronic devices—today it has 25, overwhelmingly thanks to fossil fuels.
For a source, he linked this youtube video from "Alphanr" (Alpha Natural Resources). It's titled "Did You Know" and has no description. It's 89 seconds long and packed full of factual claims including the one Epstein asserted, but lacks sources. It ends with a link to their website. Searching for "Did You Know" on the site to try to find extra details results in an error. Their site says, "Alpha is a leading global coal company and the world’s third largest metallurgical coal supplier". I doubt they have expertise at surveying household electronic device usage.

Sourcing your assertion to someone else's unsourced assertion isn't scholarship. It's how lies spread.

I've investigated this topic. Several studies have been done about electronic device usage in U.S. households. However, none of them would be acceptable sources. All the ones I found have a large methodological error. For example:
Of the 37 CE [Consumer Electronic] devices surveyed, the average U.S. household owns 24, the same number as last year, and spent $961 on consumer electronics over the past 12 months, down more than $200 from last year. The average adult individually reports spending $552 on CE in the past 12 months, down $100.
They are surveying how many devices U.S. households have from a list of 37 devices. That list is incomplete. The number of devices from the list that a household has is different than the number of consumer electronic devices the household has.

There is an additional problem here. When the surveys use a specific list of devices, they change it over time. Today we would expect smartphones to be on the list. Thirty years ago, they would not have been. Changing the list of which devices count means the surveys from different years are not comparable because they measure different lists.

When you pretend what's being measured is "(consumer) electronic devices", then it would make sense to compare studies from different years, because they appear to measure the same thing. But really one survey is about list A and another survey from another year is about list B, and calling the two lists by the same name doesn't make them the same thing. Epstein's comparison between the present and thirty years ago, using two different surveys of two different things, is a mistake.

I informed Epstein of these scholarship errors and he did not fix them. He should not repeat unsourced claims from Youtube that are presumably based on misusing the readily available invalid research. The truth matters.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Ari Armstrong

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2014/06/homosexuality-bible-rational-morality/
The fact that the Bible advocates the murder of homosexuals (as well as the murder of “witches,” of those who worship other gods, of blasphemers, of children who “curse” their parents, of adulterers, and of non-virgins whose husbands hate them—among others) indicates that the Bible, far from being a guidebook for morality, is largely an absurd book of mindless and evil prohibitions and commandments rooted in nothing more than ancient superstitions.
In the original, six of those claims about the Bible saying to murder people are linked with sources. One is non-virgins:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+22%3A13-22&version=ASV

What the Bible actually says is she needs to be a virgin when they marry. If a man hates his wife and accuses her of shameful things and says she wasn't a virgin when they married, then she is to be stoned. (Unless it was a false accusation and she actually was a virgin when they married, in which case the man is fined and has to keep her as a wife. I'm unclear on how it's to be decided whether she was a virgin or not using a garment.)

Armstrong said if a women is hated by her husband and a non-virgin (now), then the Bible advocates her murder. But the Bible actually only advocates her murder if her husband hates her and she was a non-virgin when they got married. The difference is her husband's taking of her virginity doesn't count against her.

After finding this scholarship error, I decided to check the other four claims using Armstrong's own links. The witches, children cursing parents, blasphemers, and adultery ones are accurate. The worshipping other gods one is wrong.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+13%3A6-10&version=KJV

This Bible passage is saying if a family member or friend tries to "secretly" "entice" you to "serve other gods", then don't do it and kill him. So it's specifically about people who worship other gods and try to convert you. Armstrong misrepresented it.

To be clear, in none of these cases do I agree with the Biblical position.

Two misrepresentations of the Bible out of six references is a really bad error rate (33%). And this is basic stuff. Did Armstrong click on the links he gave, and read them? I'm not even sure. I don't think Armstrong should tell people they "must discard" a Bible he misrepresents and misunderstands.

Armstrong claims to offer Objectivism as a rational alternative to the Bible. But bad scholarship is irrational. Reason demands using methods of scholarship that are good at avoiding error and finding the truth. Armstrong linked this on twitter. I've tweeted him back informing him of the problem, and will update my post if he fixes his mistakes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The New York Times Lying with Statistics

Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own from The New York Times:
By comparison, Microsoft says that, on average, it donates $2 million a day in software to nonprofits, and its employees have donated over $1 billion, inclusive of the corporate match, since 1983. In the last two years, Apple employees have donated $50 million, including the match.
The dishonest implication here is the Microsoft employees donate over 20 times as much money to charity, compared with Apple employees. Over $1 billion compared with $50 million. But the time periods compared are 31 years against 2 years. The per-year figures here (in millions) are over $32m/year for Microsoft against $25m/year for Apple, a much smaller difference.

A more meaningful comparison would compare the same time periods. It would also consider the number of employees of each company as well as their salaries. That would have made for better reporting.

The New York Times presents Microsoft's employee culture as being over 1900% more charitable than Apple's, but their own figures make the correct statistic 29%. By comparing absolute numbers from different time periods, they misled their audience by a factor of 65 in terms of the percent difference.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Cato Institute

Cato tweeted a graph from their Human Progress project:



This graph is dishonest lying with statistics in several ways.

On the left, the numbers go from 200 to 800. These are millions of chinese people living in some definition of poverty. What happened to 0? They designed the graph so the change goes from above the top to bellow the bottom. A more accurate graph would show numbers from 0 up to China's population size (now around 1.35 billion). Cato cut off around 40% of the numbers on the left to make the graph look bigger, and leaving out 0 is a well known dirty trick.

On the right, it's even worse. The right side shows some kind of economic freedom number, from 1 to 10. But they numbered their graph from 0 to 6. They made the bottom actually go lower than is possible with their own metric. Why? To make the change from around 4.75 to 6 look way bigger than it is and to have it reach the top of the graph. A 6 out of 10 should not be at the very top of the graph! And the graph shouldn't go down to 0 when dealing with something that can only start at 1.

The graph title also suggests the graph has to do with economic freedom for the whole world by using the phrase "Economic Freedom of the World", but the graph is only about China (I think, going by how the two lines are both labelled as being for China only).

Overall, Cato is trying to show economic freedom going up and poverty going down. Eyeballing it, it looks to me like poverty went down more than economic freedom went up, using these metrics. Rather than discuss how correlated they are, or try to explain the right way to think about the issue, Cato created a grossly dishonest graph to mislead people. Cato is prioritizing shiny publicity over truth.

I also made a better chart so you can compare. For the data points, I eyeballed them from Cato's chart (not all of them, that's why it's smoother). Don't it super seriously as a fact about the world, I just wanted to see how it looked with the left and right axes fixed.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing Ann Coulter's Critics

In this post, I review criticisms and fact checks of Ann Coulter. Teal quotes are Coulter, yellow quotes are from critics, red is other stuff.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/oct/16/ann-coulter/ann-coulter-says-no-doctors-who-went-american-medi/
"No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare."
lol. I remember reading that. This site considers that "pants on fire" lying, and says:
Our experts say: "outrageous," "ridiculous," "ludicrous"
They are appealing to the authority of people who suck at reading comprehension. Sigh. It wasn't meant at a factual-literal statement. This criticism is stupid. They try to defend it:
We are sure the claim wasn't intended as a joke, because it's included in a bullet-point list of straightforward criticisms of the law.
I don't think these people are familiar with Coulter's style. Also on that list was
-- Merely to be eligible for millions of dollars in grants from the federal government under Obamacare, programs are required to meet racial, ethnic, gender, linguistic and sexual orientation quotas. (That's going to make health care MUCH better!)
Using sarcasm isn't what I consider a list of "straightforward criticisms" which couldn't include a joke. Ann (who is not alone in this) has often mixed serious points and humor. Just assuming she wasn't joking about this isn't a reasonable way to interpret her.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/12/12/lie-of-the-year-goes-to/

in a "lie of the year" contest, Coulter is given a runner up award because:
Conservative author Ann Coulter’s claim that “no doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare.” It received the “pants on fire” rating, the most extreme type of lie by PolitiFact’s rating.
Same issue again. I'm including this because I just clicked everything I saw on Google, I wanted to be thorough. Coulter was not making a literal-factual claim. she was making a correct point about how Obamacare screws up market incentives. BTW she explained in a column how she herself couldn't get any medical care she valued above $0 from any obamacare plan, so the half-joking quote doesn't even seem like much of an exaggeration.

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/27/ann-coulter/coulter-fox-news-broke-bush-drunk-driving-story-20/
Coulter said Fox News broke the story of George W. Bush’s 1976 drunk driving arrest. In terms of being the first to broadcast the story, that is correct.

...

We rate Coulter’s statement Half True.
So Coulter was correct, but they rate it "Half True". I don't get it. (They make some excuses about Fox News only broadcasting it first, but one of Fox's affiliates having done the research.)

http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/when-philosophy-meets-politics/

This guy complains that Coulter dislikes Ezekiel Emanuel. Emanuel is an Obama health care advisor and a would-be philosopher. What is wrong with Coulter's position? He says Emanuel has been misunderstood and links to http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/deadly-doctor/ Unfortunately the Youtube video with Coulter's comments is no longer available and he only quoted Coulter as saying, "Zeke Emanuel is on my death list."
McCaughey, a former New York lieutenant governor, claimed that Ezekiel Emanuel advocated that "medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens.’ "
What did Emanuel actually say?
Emanuel, Hastings Center Report, 1996: Communitarians endorse civic republicanism and a growing number of liberals endorse some version of deliberative democracy. … This civic republican or deliberative democratic conception of the good provides both procedural and substantive insights for developing a just allocation of health care resources. … Substantively, it suggests services that promote the continuation of the polity – those that ensure healthy future generations, ensure development of practical reasoning skills, and ensure full and active participation by citizens in public deliberations – are to be socially guaranteed as basic. Conversely, services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia. A less obvious example is guaranteeing neuropsychological services to ensure children with learning disabilities can read and learn to reason.
Sounds awful. For those who missed the meaning, he basically wants the government authorities to be in charge of healthcare and decide who gets what by deciding which healthcare services are "basic" (government provided at taxpayer expense) or not. So like, death panels. Emanuel's defense is:
Emanuel conceded that the article is "pretty abstract" and may be difficult to follow for those who are not academics, but he said that one should not then "take two sentences out of context."

"This is clearly not written in my own voice," he said. "I am not advocating this."

We’ll leave it to you to determine the merits of Emanuel’s philosophical observations. But the context makes it clear that Emanuel is describing the implications of a particular philosophical trend, not offering a policy prescription.
So his defense is that he was just writing about bad stuff, not advocating it? And also he's smarter than us, so we shouldn't try to use our own judgment. I'm not sold. Oh and the link to the report doesn't actually work. And I don't trust this site because it screws up the next issue really badly:
McCaughey also pushes the idea that Emanuel would want to ration care for seniors by quoting from a January 2009 article that Emanuel coauthored in The Lancet journal. Here, McCaughey says, he "explicitly defends discrimination against older patients."

What Emanuel and his two coauthors were actually writing about was how to decide which patients are to receive organ transplants, vaccines or other "very scarce medical interventions" when there are not enough to go around. The three authors advocated favoring younger patients over older patients as part of a "complete lives" decision-making system aimed at saving the most years of life using the available resources. Age would be only one factor, however. Also weighing in the "complete lives" system would be such factors as a patient’s likelihood of full recovery (prognosis) and the use of a lottery when deciding between two "roughly equal" patients.

The authors disputed the idea that this system discriminates against older people in the way that favoring one race or one sex over another would discriminate. "Treating 65-year-olds differently because of stereotypes or falsehoods would be ageist; treating them differently because they have already had more life-years is not." The authors stated that the complete lives system "empowers us to decide fairly whom to save when genuine scarcity makes saving everyone impossible."
So it's not OK to accuse him of explicitly discriminating against older patients because he has the excuse that he's doing it rationally instead of due to bigotry? Umm. No. Discrimination for any reason is discrimination. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, but it does make it discrimination. He did explicitly advocate treating old people differently due to their age. And, no, also considering other factors does not change that. If I discriminate against homosexuals unless they're white, thus considering multiple factors, that does not make it stop being discrimination.

If you want to do credible fact checking you can't attack factually accurate statements like this. I'm done with this guy.

Despite this guy being dumb, I found another copy of the report he brought up anyway, and took a look. It begins:

http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/Where_Civic_Republicanism_and_Deliberative_Democracy_Meet.pdf
Is there a relationship between defects in our medical ethics and the reason the United States has repeatedly failed to enact universal health coverage?
This is politics disguised as academics. Read it if you can stomach it. He's a power-hungry statist authoritarian.

Oh and I found a copy of the video of what Coulter said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/13/ann-coulter-ezekiel-emanu_n_258365.html

She was joking. Here's the quote:
"Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel."
The assholes at factcheck.org didn't bother mentioning that Coulter was making a joke about personally being on Obama death panels, prefaced with "Totally ironically".

Again, factcheck.org quoted "Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel." as "Zeke Emanuel is on my death list."

I guess misquoting was the only way they could come up with to attack Coulter.

http://www.anncoulter.blogspot.com

This site does not have permalinks for some stupid reason. Anyway in a section called "The Lies" we read:
Regarding the War On Terror, on page 5 and 6, Coulter makes the accusations that “[i]n lieu of a military response against terrorists abroad and security precautions at home, liberals wanted to get the whole thing over with and just throw conservatives in jail” and “[l]iberals hate America, they hate ‘flag-wavers,’ they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam (post 9/11). Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.”
Coulter having different political opinions than you does not make her a liar.
Two of the sources Coulter uses to arrive at these scurrilous conclusions are New York Times columns by Frank Rich and Bruce Ackerman. On page 5, Coulter writes, “New York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that [Attorney General] Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.”

REALITY: I checked the column Coulter cited and found that nowhere in the column does Rich even remotely suggest that Ashcroft curtail efforts against Islamic terrorists. In fact, I checked every post-9/11 Times column by Rich and found that Rich has not made any such demands of Ashcroft. This is one of Coulter’s lies that I e-mailed to Alan Colmes who interviewed Coulter last night (6/25/02) on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes show. Colmes confronted Coulter with this. Coulter’s response: “that is an accurate paraphrase...” (For a transcript of Coulter and Colmes’s exchange, check the addendum at the bottom of this post).
ok let's see the addendum
Addendum: Partial transcript of Hannity & Colmes, June 25, 2002. Interview with Ann Coulter

Colmes : [ Quoting from Slander, pg. 5] ‘New York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that [Attorney General] Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.’ You referred to a particular column that Frank Rich wrote. He never said that in the column. He never said that Ashcroft should stop monkeying around. I can’t show you what he didn’t say because he didn’t say it. It wasn’t in the column.

Coulter: Yes, he did. I mean, I do know what the column says. No, I wasn’t quoting him precisely—

Colmes: I read it today.

Coulter: That is an accurate paraphrase—unlike his quotes of me, I might add, which are, I can show you how they are deceptive. But, no, he was specifically saying, here just so the viewers don’t have to go to the trouble of looking it up. He was specifically complaining that Ashcroft was not meeting with the head of Planned Parenthood when he was purporting to investigate terrorism. That is true and you can’t deny it.

Colmes: That’s not what you said—

[Hannity interrupts and begins to interview Coulter]
ok and what's the article say? "Planned Parenthood, which has been on the front lines of anthrax scares for years and has by grim necessity marshaled the medical and security expertise to combat them, has sought a meeting with the attorney general since he took office but has never been granted one."

so, Coulter was right? what's the problem? the article was complaining that Ashcroft didn't meet with planned parenthood when he was supposed to be dealing with terrorism. the article also said, "A close friend of George W. Bush, [Mr. Ridge] should have been in the administration from the get-go, and was widely rumored to be a candidate for various jobs, including the vice presidency. But after being pilloried by the right because he supports abortion rights, he got zilch. Instead of Mr. Ridge, the administration signed on the pro-life John Ashcroft". so the article really did focus on the abortion issue. and for those who don't know, Ashcroft was busy working on stuff like the patriot act. his resignation letter stated, "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

These people seem to consider anything an error if they don't like it and it involves any interpretation they disagree with. They ought to learn the difference between false factual statements and disagreeable (to them) opinion statements.

moving on to another website by the same guy

http://godlessanncoulter.blogspot.com
Now that it's been thoroughly established that Coulter engaged in plagiarism, not only in the book Godless but for her syndicated column
the link to the plagiarism info doesn't work. (there was also a second link but it went to a blog mainpage with no mention of plagiarism to be found)
I can only speculate but here's my hypothesis: Coulter is a mendacious and venal cynic who has no heart. As an educated person, she hardly believes her own bullshit
OK I guess this guy is just a political opponent of Coulter's who isn't doing objective analysis. done with him. let's google for plagiarism though, that sounds interesting.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/07/07/225305/-Ann-Coulter-plagiarism-charges-overblown

i laughed out loud when i saw Daily Kos defending Ann Coulter from the plagiarism charges. the Kos article says all Coulter did is use some arguments she didn't come up with herself, which it considers "lazy" but recognizes isn't plagiarism. so it's like when I use arguments that Ayn Rand thought of – does studying Objectivism make me lazy? Kos links to details but the link doesn't work.

http://newsbusters.org/node/6307

the plagiarism accusation was made using software plagiarism checking. this kind of thing needs manual checking. also apparently the accuser didn't release his detailed evidence initially. An executive at Coulter's book publisher said, "The number of words used by our author in these snippets is so minimal that there is no requirement for attribution."

things get more fun as Coulter herself addresses the issue. Coulter says:

http://www.newshounds.us/2006/07/12/ann_coulter_responds_to_the_plagiarism_charges_and_neil_cavuto_helps_her_with_the_spin.php
You can't plagiarize the name 'George Bush.'
See? Fun issue. I laughed. and even more fun:
And if I'm plagiarizing I want to know who's saying all those awful thing about the Jersey Girls. Liberals can't really get it straight. Either I'm writing vile horrible books or I'm not writing vile horrible books.
lol
...[E]ven liberal lunatic Daily Kos says it's not plagiarism.
lol, similar to my reaction (except the "lunatic" psychiatry part).

discussing libel, Coulter says she won't sue, she's a public figure, people can and do say whatever they want about her. then:
Cavuto, interrupting:

Do you find that a touch ironic? You've blasted public figures all your life. They turn around and blast you and you can't do a lick about it.

Coulter:

I don't lie about them. I mean, we ought to have the same libel law, and I've always believed this, that Britain does and that is pure truth or falsity. Fine, put a cap on damages. Have a pure truth or falsity here but that is not what libel law is. You can say anything about a public figure.
Truth or falsity sounds like a good criterion for libel to me.

And, indeed, Ann does not lie about the people she criticizes. I've fact checked her, plus I did this big post you're reading right now. i've looked through her stuff and what her critics say. (let me spoil the ending for you: her critics are incompetent).

ok let's get back to wading through the less fun stuff.

http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030630.html
Misleading quotation and sourcing of claims

Coulter engages in a series of deceptive practices in quoting people and sourcing her claims. Most commonly, she distorts the authorship of articles she's citing. Throughout the book, she attributes outside book reviews, magazine profiles and op-eds to media outlets as if they were staff-written news reports, feeding the perception of bias on the part of these institutions. These include a New York Times Week in Review article by historian Richard Gid Powers cited as "According to the Times..." (p. 6); a Washington Post book review by Patricia Aufderheide described as "the Washington Post said..." (p. 97) and "The Washington Post called..." (p. 98); and a New York Times Magazine article by reporter Leslie Gelb cited as "the New York Times reported..." (p. 171). At one point, she cites a single Washington Post magazine article by journalist Orville Schell four separate ways (implying multiple stories to the casual reader), in one case calling it "a two-part, four-billion-column-inch Washington Post story" in which "the Post said..." (p. 92).
if you want the exact details of a cite, look it up. if someone is lazy, that is their own fault, not Coulter's. you can't expect Coulter to provide every detail about something you might be interested in, upfront. people who don't check cites are going to make mistakes no matter what Coulter does.

and why doesn't Spinsanity, so concerned about cites, give us links to the articles it's talking about?

in general, organizations are responsible for what they publish, so I don't see what's wrong with referring to it that way. Unless it's something like a letter to the editor.

when something like the Times' Week in Review or Magazine shares the website (same domain) and logo (their name in that iconic font) with the Times, they are choosing not to be a clearly separate entity. they should clearly separate their own stuff before demanding Coulter add words to her book about the separation.
Coulter also repeatedly cites quotations out of context from the original source material, implying that reporters reached conclusions that were actually presented by sources quoted in the piece. In one particularly dishonest case, she claims that the New York Times "reminded readers that Reagan was a 'cowboy, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat'" after the invasion of Grenada (p. 179). However, the "cowboy" quote is actually from a Reagan administration official quoted in a Week in Review story who said, ''I suppose our biggest minus from the operation is that there now is a resurgence of the caricature of Ronald Reagan, the cowboy, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat.''
Bringing something up (which the NYT did) does remind people about it. ok two strikes and we'll move on to the next article by the same website.

http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20020713.html
Yet if readers can leave aside all of these problems (admittedly not an easy task), Coulter is actually driving at something important about the state of political debate in the media. She's right, for example, that left-leaning politicians and editorial pages sometimes mount sophisticated and unfair rhetorical campaigns against their political enemies. The example she chooses -- attacks against former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his policies -- is exactly on point. She also chooses other examples to good effect, such as Rep. Charlie Rangel's equation of Gingrich's policies with those of Nazi Germany. Absurdly, though, she steadfastly refuses to admit that conservatives can be guilty of exactly the same thing -- an asymmetry so glaring that only the most partisan readers can accept it at face value.
Coulter is certainly not shy about criticizing conservatives. Anyway, what problems? apparently she wrote "sweeping judgements":
"Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do."
"[T]he left is itching to silence conservatives once and for all."
"[I]f Americans knew what they [liberals] really believed, the public would boil them in oil."
""Principle is nothing to liberals. Winning is everything."
So basically the "problems" are Coulter's political ideas.
Another problem plaguing Slander is the deceptive way Coulter uses footnotes to lend a false sense of legitimacy to questionable points. To take one example, in her discussion of media treatment of former Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., she provides a list of 10 quotes alternating between positive coverage prior to his political demise following allegations of sexual harassment, and negative coverage afterward. Coulter introduces the list with the claim that "What happened to Packwood is a stunning example of the media's power both to destroy and protect ... In the case of Packwood, the media's good dog/bad dog descriptions were applied to the exact same human being."

To the casual reader, the list must seem fairly damning. Yet if one flips to the back of the book and checks her sources, it turns out that her claim about "the media" rests on a very small sample. Rather than the 10 different articles the casual reader would assume Coulter is quoting, she relies on one article for four of the five negative quotes, a second for three of the five positive quotes, and a third for the other two positive quotes. In all, the list comes down to four articles -- thin evidence at best for the broad suggestion that coverage of Packwood proves "[t]here is no intellectual honesty whatsoever in media descriptions of politicians," which she makes two paragraphs later.
OK let me check the book. Coulter writes, "There are literally hundreds of news items using these words in connection with Bob Packwood." What words? "Maverick", "gadfly", "courage" and "political savvy". so why is spinsanity claiming Coulter cherrypicked a couple quotes and misled people about there being more, when she actually explicitly said there were hundreds? Why didn't they quote and investigate the much bigger claim?

I think because it's not an issue they can win, and they are scum. Google for "Bob Packwood" and each of the 4 terms. I got 10k hits for maverick, 6k hits for gadfly, 30k hits for courage, and 300 hits for "political savvy". they aren't all news items, but at a glance i can see some are. there's far more news sources for this than the four articles spinsanity dishonestly pretends is the whole story after dishonestly selectively quoting Coulter.

http://mediamatters.org/research/2009/01/07/coulter-compounds-falsehoods-in-point-by-point/146726

these guys are mad that Coulter described liberals defending evil with the word "praise". Coulter answered the issue, saying in part, "among the praise for the perpetrators of the hoax hate crime was a statement by the president of Duke in a baccalaureate address reprinted in the Duke magazine". the media matters folks screwed up the link Coulter provided, but i managed to find the article

https://web.archive.org/web/20030513015105/http://dukemagazine.duke.edu/dukemag/issues/070801/depgar.html
At your opening convocation in August 1997, I spoke on the theme of freedom -- the kind of freedom you might expect at Duke, and my advice on how to use it wisely. I also told you about some of the things you would need to grapple with, freely and responsibly, during your Duke years. One of those predictions was that race would surely matter in your lives. During your first semester, students hung a black doll in effigy on the quad to protest what they saw as our inhospitable environment for African Americans.
The issue is the black doll in effigy. Media Matters thinks this distorted picture of events (no mention that it was hung by a noose by lying scumbags) isn't praise because it was just saying race was relevant when it whitewashed a very nasty hoax. Media Matters refusing to understand what this kind of statement means does not make Coulter a poor scholar.

Next up, a little variety. I ran into a fact check of an attack on Coulter's scholarship. Read it if you want: http://lyingliar.com/?p=46

Moving on, this is amusing:

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ann_Coulter
If you can find every single problem with American society and put them into one person, it's [Ann Coulter].
That's from "Rational Wiki". I'm not seeing how opening with this kind of hateful flaming is a rational approach. They don't bother trying to present a serious critical case against Coulter or fact checking her. Mostly they quote a bunch of things she said without comment, as if "rational" thinking means assuming your political views are too obvious to need explaining.

http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/2005/07/why-ann-coulter-is-cunt-part-1856.html
Why Ann Coulter Is a Cunt, Part 1856 - The Plagiarism Edition
You might have expected left-wing Coulter haters to be more sensitive to feminist issues, gender respect, or that kind of stuff. If you did, you were wrong. The left likes to lie about having such values far more than it wants to bother having them. And I already covered the plagiarism issue earlier.

also, speaking of obamacare, some people are mad about this:

http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/doug-graham.html

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/feb/05/ann-coulter/ann-coulter-says-friends-sister-died/

first of all, dying from obamacare is different than dying of cancer. umm, sure, i know. also there's a blue shield issue.
But the claim that someone "died from Obamacare" because Blue Shield "completely just pulled out of California" is something we can fact-check.
ok and they do check it:
Like other insurers across California and the country, Blue Shield of California could no longer offer some health insurance plans because they did not include "essential health benefits" required by the Affordable Care Act.

These plans could not be grandfathered in under the new law. Blue Shield of California sent letters to 119,000 customers in September notifying them their current plans would end "but we can still have you covered in 2014." PunditFact obtained a sample cancellation letter from the company.
Sounds complaint-worthy to me.
The letters went to 57 percent of the insurer’s individual market customers, she said. For two-thirds of the people who lost their plan, the recommended option was more expensive, the Los Angeles Times reported.
hmm. since the complaints don't provide enough details about the Blue Shield, let's look up what their organization is like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Shield_of_California
In 2006, Blue Shield agreed to a $6.5 million settlement relating to its alleged modifying of the risk tier structure of its individual and family health care plans. In 2008, the organization agreed to a settlement with the California Department of Managed Health Care to resolve allegations of improper rescission of individual health plan coverage. Blue Shield agreed to pay $3 million as a penalty. The organization reinstated coverage to 450 members whose plans had been cancelled and agreed to provide compensation for any medical debts incurred by these policyholders due to the rescission.
wikipedia's source link may be dead, but you can still find the source here: https://web.archive.org/web/20080721053636/http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gDBLyPh2QHiIO7azoVYF9Q2TVRSwD9203RSG2
Two of California's biggest health insurers have agreed to collectively pay $13 million and reinstate more than 2,000 insurance policies to settle claims with the state that they illegally dropped policyholders from coverage.
so Blue Shield has a history of illegally dropping people's insurance. given that history, i think critics need to present a little research about the current events before we should trust Blue Shield.

But politifact basically says no one lost their insurance (but lots of people had their rates raised. but they all had spare money to pay higher rates?) so, ok, at this point do i know what happened? no not really. do Coulter's critics know what happened? i don't think so. if they do, why couldn't they write more convincing material with detailed factual information with good sources? and all this is because maybe Coulter exaggerated a bit when speaking on TV, not in writing? at worst she said Blue Shield pulled out of California over Obamacare when actually they just changed a bunch of stuff around and made things worse for more than a hundred thousand people? if this vague stuff is the best criticism of Coulter that anyone has, i'm not impressed.

finally there's this book, Soulless: Ann Coulter and the Right-Wing Church of Hate by Susan Estrich. ok i can respect that parody title, but let's see what it says. (In these quotes, bolding names of speakers in interviews and italics are from the book, bolding other stuff is my emphasis.)

It says if you want to see all of Coulter's errors documented, go to www.mediamatters.org [p10] but i'd already been there above, and i don't see anything about Coulter on their homepage, and when I do a search on the site for "Ann Coulter" it doesn't come up with some organized documentation of her errors as promised. This book is from 2006, but it's Estrich's own fault for linking a homepage and pretending it was a source of something specific.

Estrich isn't big on specifics:
[Coulter] makes you so angry sometimes that you become a mirror of her. That is her power. That's why people throw pies and nitpick footnotes. [p11]
When I fact checked Coulter footnotes, was I nitpicking? Was it because I hate Coulter? No. Scholarship matters! Well to me at least, not to Estrich.

Estrich is an angry person. It's a pattern:
I had to erase everything I wrote here, I got so mad. Better write nothing, my mother would have said. What can you say to hate? [p9]
And that's just in the first 11 pages. I tried to look for more anger in the index, but there isn't an index.

Estrich's book isn't about fact checking Coulter. It's about arguing with principles. That would be OK but the method is awful:
Social scientists argue, using polling data, that there is no culture war. Ann needs to create one in order to destroy the possibility that a decent progressive majority might triumph over the forces of hate. [p6]
The book has footnotes, but not for that factual claim about polling data. And note the appeal to the authority of "scientists" as an arguing method.

But the important thing is Estrich thinks there's no disagreement, no debate, Coulter is just inventing one. If Coulter would just shut up and stop spreading divisive hate, then America could be a calm, progressive (left-wing) country. Estrich wants to win by a method other than winning the debate.

"progressive" really does mean left-wing to Estrich, btw
[Coulter] asks: What does liberalism believe? (We're supposed to call ourselves progressives, by the way; it polls much better.) [p12]
now back to denying there are significant political disagreements:
What's clear to everyone except Ann is that the president [George W. Bush] has failed. The war in Iraq has failed. [p6]
Estrich claims everyone except Coulter agrees with "decent progressive" politics like that George W. Bush and the Iraq war were failures.

Coulter recognizes that people disagree and argues her case, strongly. I respect that.

Estrich denies that people disagree (except a few extremists like Coulter). Then instead of arguing for her political views, Estrich writes a book attacking an extremist for not having the "decent progressive" views Estrich is sure all the Americans who count would agree with her about.

You think Estrich doesn't really mean it? That she isn't trying to smooth over political debate so everyone can just agree with her? That she isn't trying to be the reasonable moderate most Americans already agree with, to Coulter's divisive extremism?
You look at every poll and what you find is a decent, moderate, tolerant nation, being torn apart by the divisive, polarizing, mean-spirited politics of a selfish few. You find that on the fundamental issues that are supposed to be tearing us apart, we're far more united than you think, and we're being divided for sport. [p2]
Estrich tries to frame things so everyone already agrees with her and there's no need to debate. Instead of debate, she'll just flame Coulter and anyone else who disagrees as a tiny mean-spirited divisive minority. Polarizing people and being divisive is bad – Estrich claims – unless you're attacking people like Coulter (or, I suppose, me).

Coulter is the intellectual here who argues her points. Estrich is the venom-spewing hater. Ironically Estrich keeps talking about Coulter with phrases like "venom [p5]", "rants [p6]", "forces of hate [p6]", "polarizing [p6]", "trades on hate for the fun of it [p2]", "mean-spirited [p2]", "selfish [p2]". Other than that last one, they all apply to Estrich more than to Coulter. (I'm not sure if Estrich has a self. If you don't understand this comment but want to, read The Fountainhead.)

Look at this attack:
... Ann uses God as a gimmick. [...] She admits this. ... [p7]
This is a flame which Estrich doesn't argue. It's just the sort of wordplay Coulter is frequently accused of doing (but actually Coulter has integrity and standards. She does something kind of similar but better). Coulter did not and would not admit to using God as a "gimmick". Coulter would never say that in her own words or agree with it, and didn't. Estrich has no evidence or argument to the contrary. But Estrich is twisting Coulter's position and paraphrasing to create something mean. Then the big problem comes when Estrich attributes her twist to Coulter. If Estrich wants to claim Coulter uses God as a gimmick, whatever, but claiming that Coulter agrees is over the line.

Bigger picture, Estrich hasn't written a serious fact-checking book and wouldn't claim she did. ("What's wrong with Ann, in my judgment, is not that she is sloppier than anybody else in the political world, but that she's meaner... [p11]").

Estrich has written a book of political rhetoric, but her methods begin by claiming she doesn't need to argue her point. She just assumes her reader already agrees with her, and if not then he must be a tiny minority of non-decent non-progressive people like Coulter. Because of this method, I don't have much to say about the book.

I disagree. If you (Estrich) want a rational debate, I'm open to that. Coulter and I accept that you disagree with us and are willing to argue about politics. When you are willing to analyze the issues instead of putting all your effort into saying that's unnecessary, get back to me.

You doubt Estrich means it this way? "... And why drop the last line, if not to fool us progressives? [p13]", "Since we think the Earth is actually precious, we have to protect it. [p13]", "She is turning us into cartoons [p14]". It's all about "the rest of us [p11]" against "Ann". And immediately preceding this assumption that all of her readers agree with her, Estrich accuses Coulter of "talking to her base [p13]".

So we're pretty much done here. I just wanted to show you one more thing about the book.
[From an interview] Lauer: Do you believe everything in this book—do you believe everything in the book, or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?

[Estrich commenting] She really does believe them. This is the amazing but true part. Scary, but true.

Coulter: No, of course I believe everything. [p62]
When I saw this I thought maybe I could respect something about Estrich. Estrich admits Coulter means what she says. Except it turned out it was just a tactic to call Coulter "scary". A little later Estrich contradicts herself:
[This is another interview, and the question is whether the 9/11 widows would give up their celebrity, notoriety and money to have their husbands back. Colmes and Shwartz think it's obvious that the widows would make that trade. Coulter isn't sure and says:]

Coulter: I don't know. I can't read into their hearts. But it isn't as obvious to me as it apparently is to you.

[Estrich comments] How can you say this, Ann? How can anyone say it? Even if it's just for effect, how can you say it? [p76]
Part of Colmes' reply is "You've got to be kidding me. [p76]".

But it's not just for effect, Coulter is not kidding, she believes it. And I for one agree with her about the 9/11 widows.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fact Checking Ann Coulter

I've encountered a lot of scholarship errors in books (and elsewhere) and learned to watch out for false claims. Even if a book gives a lot of footnotes, it can easily still be wrong. I often check the sources for claims, rather than trusting footnotes, and I've caught problems. I've written about the bad scholarship of the Cato Institute, the Ayn Rand Institute, the New York Times, Thomas Sowell, Robert Zubrin, Alex Epstein, Steven Mosher, Isaac Kramnick, Fred Pearce, Matthew Connelly, Robert McGee, and Ari Armstrong.

I didn't have to look for scholarship errors to find any of those. I just read things normally and investigated issues that stood out to me. With Coulter, I did the same thing when reading her books. I investigated several of her claims. The difference is, with everyone else I found an error within the first few issues I investigated. With Coulter, I never found an error, so I decided she was a good scholar.

But Coulter's weekly column rarely gives sources for its many factual claims. I find that uncomfortable. I was concerned I was being too trusting by reading her column and generally believing its facts. Plus, I disagree with Coulter on some important issues (like psychiatry). When you have substantial disagreements with someone, that indicates you think about the world in some different ways, so it's good to tread carefully. Perhaps she treats factual accuracy differently than I do (I know many people take it less seriously than me). So I decided to fact check Ann Coulter more thoroughly.

To be objective, I used a random method. I'd already tried checking things that stood out to me. This time I investigated 10 random footnotes from her books. For each one, I picked a book, then I selected a chapter with a random number generator, then I went to the footnotes for that chapter and selected one with a random number generator. Whatever was randomly chosen, I committed to investigate it and reach a conclusion, even if it was hard; reselecting any footnotes would compromise objectivity.

This is not a perfect approach. If 1% of Coulter's footnotes are mistaken, I could miss it. Maybe she approaches her columns with a different respect for scholarship than the books I'm checking (why?). Maybe she has mistakes with no footnote. If I missed something, please tell me (with specifics!). Leave a comment below or email me curi@curi.us

In my experience, I often find scholarship errors within the first three things I check for an author. Because errors are so common, I think a spot check like this is valuable. If you doubt how common errors are, I recommend you fact check some other authors. Plus, I've already read Coulter's books and checked a few claims I found suspicious, so adding random checking provides good variety and objectivity. And, while reading, I already had the opportunity to spot claims in her books that should have a footnote but don't, or notice other issues.

I checked 10 randomly selected footnotes from 5 Ann Coulter books. For each one, I present my analysis below and I score Coulter's scholarship from 0 to 5 points. Her final average score was 5, which is perfect. (I decided on the scoring system before I started.) I found no scholarship errors. Well done!

In addition to fact checking Coulter myself, I also reviewed other people's criticism and fact checking of Coulter. Click through for details; in summary, their own scholarship was terrible. Also, my friend fact checked one random Coulter cite I gave him, which was correct.

Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America

Cite: Chapter 12: 29. Lynn Sweet, “Dems Seek Strategy Against ‘Birthers,’ ” Chicago Sun-Times, August 5, 2009.
The Democratic National Committee called the Tea Party movement “rabid right-wing extremists” and “angry mobs.”29
(Yellow quotes are from Coulter's books, teal quotes are from her sources, red indicates other quotes.)

Here, Coulter has given two quotes. I found the article here. It has the text Coulter quoted:
The Obama-controlled Democratic National Committee is portraying its foes as on the political fringe, accusing "Republicans and their allied groups" of "inciting angry mobs," calling them "a small number of rabid right wing extremists."
The only difference is Coulter added a hyphen in "right-wing". I think that's a reasonable English style change, not a misquote.

The article's source is the author personally speaking with Democratic Senator Dick Durban and providing quotes. Good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 25. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 170–71.
Reminiscent of France’s “Cult of Reason,” the Nazis planned to replace Christianity with the “Reich Church,” based on a 30-point plan drawn up by Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg. Crosses were to be stripped from churches, cathedrals, and chapels and replaced by the swastika. Bibles, crucifixes, and saints would be forbidden from the altars, which would instead display a copy of Mein Kampf and a sword.25 (If they had thought of it, they might have put Christ in a jar of urine.)
I got the book. Page 170 says:
Rosenberg was an "outspoken pagan" who, during the war, developed a thirty-point program for the "National Reich Church."
Five of the thirty points are given in the book on page 171. Coulter gets everything right:
18. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German nation and therefore God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.

30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels ... and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.
But what about this book's source? I was worried for a second because there's no footnotes. But it does have endnotes with sources, they just go by page number and brief quotes rather than by footnote number. There are five reasonable-looking sources given for pages 170-171.

And if you search for this material on Google you get lots of hits with these points, some of which give more sources. For example:
(The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, p. 240 in some editions, p. 332 in others. Chapter headed "Triumph and Consolidation", subsection "The Persecution of the Christian Churches")
He even checked the page numbers for different editions! That Shirer book is actually one of Bonhoeffer's sources. Let's see if there are any Amazon reviews criticizing Shirer's scholarship. There are 16 1 star reviews out of 930 reviews. Looking through them:
This review is not of the excellent scholarly work of William Shirer but of the Kindle version of this book
The serious flaw in this book is the extremely poor editing by the publisher [for the Kindle version]
The book is excellent..a classic. There is a problem with the new audiobook service and the Kindle Fire HD.
Lots of 1 star reviews are either about problems with the e-book or the audio book. One guy wants to defend Nietzsche from charges of anti-semitism, but I didn't find his comments persuasive. Someone says Shirer's book is outdated and there is new information available, but doesn't point out specific mistakes. Someone even says:
The simple fact is if I want an anti Nazi soapbox filled with opinion and no facts, I will read a political blog or something along those lines.
Shirer's book is anti-Nazi? Fine with me. These Amazon reviews look like what you would expect for an accurate book that offends a few people. I'm giving Coulter full credit.

Score: 5/5

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton

Cite: Chapter 4: 9 John M. Broder, “Testing of a President: The Investigation,” New York Times, March 7, 1998.
Jordan told the grand jury that he personally gave the president regular progress reports on his efforts to get Lewinsky a job. He partially confirmed Clinton’s statement that Betty Currie was the one who referred Lewinsky to him. Yet he also explained that he assumed the referral was made at the president’s request.9
Here's the article.
Mr. Clinton, in his deposition, acknowledged talking to Mr. Jordan about finding a job for Ms. Lewinsky. And Mr. Jordan has told his lawyers and the grand jury that he personally kept the President up to date on his job search efforts.

...

Mr. Jordan has said that it was Mrs. Currie who referred Ms. Lewinsky to him. But his attorney, William G. Hundley, said this week that Mr. Jordan assumed that Mrs. Currie was acting at the President's behest.
The footnote does have the material for all three of Coulter's sentences, and she presented it accurately. A problem I've seen before is a section of text makes multiple claims and then gives a footnote for one of the claims. Then the other claims have no source. But Coulter did it right.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 12: 6 Investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on “Filegate” in 1996, discovered this.
This was not the sort of thing that tended to promote the appearance of innocent bungling. In addition, a six-month gap in the log used to sign out the sensitive files from the White House Security Office was never explained. One page of the looseleaf log ends on March 29, 1994, and the next page picks up again with September 21, 1994.6
I'm not very happy with this cite because it doesn't give any source to look up. But there is information online:
(e) Secret Service entry logs indicate Craig Livingstone's access to the White House residence when he had no logical reason for being there, other than perhaps to share FBI files with its occupants. Indeed, a "check out" log of FBI files from his office shows a six (6) month "gap" -- from March 29, 1994 to September 21, 1994 -- where there are no entries, reminiscent of the eighteen (18) minute gap in the Nixon tapes during Watergate. See Secret Service Entry Logs, attached as Exhibit 9.
Looks like Coulter had it right. I'm still not happy about the lack of a source I could directly check, but I'm hesitant to subtract any points when she was factually correct. To resolve this, I searched for newspaper articles from the time. If it was common knowledge, then I'll give her full credit.

LA Times:
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the gap troubling and asked former White House aide D. Craig Livingstone to explain missing entries in the log between March 29, 1994, and Sept. 21, 1994.

...

"There was a period of time evidently that the log wasn't kept," Livingstone testified.
Well, OK, Livingstone admitted it himself, in Senate testimony, and it was in a major newspaper. And it's not that hard to find, even 18 years later.

Score: 5/5

Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama

Cite: Chapter 14: 62. Mark Hosenball, “The Death-Threat Debate,” Newsweek, October 27, 2008. Available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/10/18/the-death-threat-debate.html.
The Obama campaign responded to Newsweek’s inquiries about the candidate’s lie by saying that even if the report wasn’t true, “what is true is that the tone of the rhetoric at McCain–Palin campaign events has gotten out of hand.”62
I like cites with URLs! Coulter's quote exactly matches the webpage. The source is, "An Obama campaign spokesman told NEWSWEEK". Looks good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 18. Mark Mooney, “Obama Aide Concedes ‘Dollar Bill’ Remark Referred to His Race,” ABC News, August 1, 2008. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Politics/story?id=5495348&page=1#.T_bYV45Sbao
Maybe he’d be the first Hawaiian on a dollar bill. Apparently, there were limits to the press’s credulity and eventually, the Obama campaign admitted that, yes, the dollar bill line was about race.18
Another URL, and another correct cite. Easy one.
But Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged on "Good Morning America" Friday that the candidate was referring, at least in part, to his ethnic background.

When pressed to explain the comment, Axelrod told "GMA" it meant, "He's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American."
Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 4: 33. Jim Dwyer, “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids,” (New York) Newsday, January 8, 1992.
The only definitive proof that the paint attacks were hoaxes was that the police, the mayor and the New York Times suddenly dropped the subject, never mentioning the white-paint attacks again. Needless to say, there would be no investigation into whether the alleged victims had wasted police resources by falsely reporting a crime.

The shoe-polish hate crime had made the front page of the New York Times and the cover of New York Newsday in massive in-depth interviews with the “victims.” The Times’s story, titled “Victim of Bias Attack, 14, Wrestles with His Anger,” was 1,228 words long.32 Newsday’s account, written by the most easily fooled journalist in America, Jim Dwyer, clocked in at 1,016 words and was titled “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids.”33 The racist attack was talked about in France, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, on the MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour, in endless stories on National Public Radio and still today, in Anna Quindlen’s living room.
I quoted a lot in this case to make the context and issue clear. This article is tough to find. The only thing Google found was from Coulter's book. Archive.org found nothing. Newsday's website search is broken. Searching for the author "Dwyer" brings up a bunch of sports articles that give an error when clicked on. Jim Dwyer may have won a Pulitzer Prize while at Newsday, but their link to his articles is broken.

But I eventually managed to find it. Coulter's cite is correct except for two punctuation changes. The version I found online has the apostrophe moved to the wrong place and has quotes around the dialog from the mother:
Race Victims' Mom: `I Wanted A Better Life For My Kids'
I don't see a meaningful problem. And the visible text of the article fits what Coulter was talking about.

Score: 5/5

Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right

Cite: Chapter 2: 3. Editorial, Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 14, 2002.
The California Coastal Commission was forced to intervene to demand that the Hollywood left stop blocking access to the beach. Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club, expressed shock at the arrogance of what he called "some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu."3
The issue here is the Hoye quote. Although the Las Vegas Review-Journal deleted the article from their website, the Internet Archive still has a copy:
"Some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu turned their backs on me over this issue," said Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club and now a champion of open beaches, to the Los Angeles Times.
I think their source is this L.A. Times article. Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 8: 12. Jo Mannies, "Bradley Touts New Book, Ideologies; Public Trust Tops Priorities in New Appeal," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1996, p. 1C.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Bradley's run-of-the-mill, tax-and-spend liberalism as "his cerebral approach to politics."12
The article is behind a paywall. I paid.
His personal disclosures, in the book and in interviews, are a departure for Bradley, a private man known for his prowess in basketball and his cerebral approach to politics.
Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism

Cite: Chapter 6: 78. Lawrence Van Gelder, "Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer," New York Times, October 25, 1995; William Glaberson, "F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild," New York Times.
The New York Times has variously referred to the Guild as "a nation-wide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights" and "a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes."78
These articles were easy to find and the quotes are correct. Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer:
Mr. Cammer was also a founder and active member of the National Lawyers Guild, a nationwide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights, as well as a volunteer lawyer in the civil rights movement in the South in the 1960's.
F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild:
The Guild, a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes, was tarred for years with charges that it was a "Communist front" organization.
Ann added a hyphen in "nation-wide". That's fine. Otherwise the quotes are exact.

Score: 5/5

Congratulations to Ann Coulter for her perfect score. It's great – and too rare – to see high quality scholarship.

EDIT: I want to be extra clear about a misconception some readers have had. Of course checking random cites is not comprehensive. First, I checked anything that stood out to me as suspicious or interesting, like I do with everyone. Other people never pass that phase 1 checking. Then for phase 2, I checked random cites for Ann Coulter as a supplement. I wanted to be extra hard on Coulter, rather than treat phase 1 checking as adequate. Coulter passed both phases, her rivals all failed in phase 1.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) doesn't care about scholarship like accurate quoting. They write:
According to an abstract of the study, "for people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people's status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred."
They link the study and the abstract doesn't say that. They made that quote up. It's a paraphrase, not a quote, but it's in quote marks. And more confusing, the ending words, "... reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.", are a quote.

It's cool that they are linking a source, but they need to learn to actually take quotes from the source, instead of fabricating them.

Instead of misquoting the study, the WSJ should have tried thinking about the study. For example:
Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338], although the results are controversial.
The WSJ could have questioned the wisdom of letting these researchers toy with hundreds of thousands of users in order to produce a paper with a grammar error in the abstract. There should be a comma after "period". This isn't a minor point. The sentence would be confusing enough with the comma, and is harder to understand without it.

On the one hand, I wouldn't expect a publication that misquotes papers (which they could trivially copy/paste from correctly) to notice this. But on the other hand, I don't think they should report on things they don't understand.

Or here is a part of the study that maybe the WSJ would understand:
As such, it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.
Instead of misquoting, the WSJ could have accurately quoted this part (it's not very hard, I used copy/paste) and questioned whether it's really "informed consent" when most of Facebook's users have never read Facebook’s Data Use Policy.

How can people give informed consent to something they haven't read? That's the sort of issue newspapers are often better at discussing.

Or maybe the WSJ could put their efforts towards useful commentary on this part, instead of lying about what the study says:
First, because News Feed content is not “directed” toward anyone, contagion could not be just the result of some specific interaction with a happy or sad partner.
The WSJ could have pointed out something interesting and useful here. They missed the opportunity to mention that this is completely false – some News Feed posts are directed at specific individuals. I rarely read Facebook, but I've seen people post stuff directed at a specific individual (this shouldn't be particularly surprising). (How many? I don't know. The study doesn't know either, they just stupidly assumed none are. Apparently Facebook is too far away from their ivory tower to ever read anyone's News Feed.)

There's so much great stuff to discuss here, but the WSJ would rather destroy their own credibility than provide useful commentary.

The WSJ did try to say something worthwhile, but they messed it up. They wrote:
The emotional changes in the research subjects was small. For instance, people who saw fewer positive posts only reduced the number of their own positive posts by a tenth of a percent.
Looking at how big an effect we're talking about is important, and helps put the study findings in context for readers. However, this is factually incorrect and not what the study says. It's bad scholarship again. The study actually said:
When positive posts were reduced in the News Feed, the percentage of positive words in people’s status updates decreased by B = −0.1% compared with control [...]
People who saw fewer positive posts reduced their own positive posting by 0.1% more than the control subjects did.

The WSJ should try hiring people who know how to read and understand studies – and who don't fabricate false quotations – if they want to report on studies.

Note: The article provides a contact email. On 2014-07-02, I explained the two clear factual errors (fabricated quote and misunderstanding of what paper said) and asked about fixing them. No reply. (I'll update my post if I receive a late reply.)

Providing a contact email implies being open to discussion and correction. It implies there is a path forward. If one isn't actually willing to make corrections, it's dishonest.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Correlation Study

Here is a typical example of a bad correlation study. I've pointed out a couple flaws, which are typical.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3039704/
Chocolate Consumption is Inversely Associated with Prevalent Coronary Heart Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study
These data suggest that consumption of chocolate is inversely related with prevalent CHD in a general population.
Of 4,679 individuals contacted, responses were obtained from 3,150 (67%)
So they started with a non-random sample. The two thirds of people who responded were not random.

This non-random sample they studied may have some attribute, X, much more than the general population. It may be chocolate+X interactions which offer health benefits. This is a way the study conclusions could be false.

They used a "food frequency questionnaire". So you get possibilities like: half the people reporting they didn't eat chocolate were lying (but very few of the people admitting to eating chocolate were lying). And liars overeat fat much more than non-liars, and this fat eating differential (not chocolate eating) is the cause of the study results. This is another way the study conclusions could be false.

They say they used "used generalized estimating equations", but do not provide the details. There could be an error there so that their conclusions are false.

They talk about controls:
adjusting for age, sex, family CHD risk group, energy intake, education, non-chocolate candy intake, linolenic acid intake, smoking, alcohol intake, exercise, and fruit and vegetables
As you can see, this is nothing like a complete list of every possible relevant factor. There are many things they did not control for. Some of those may have been important, so this could ruin their results.

And they don't provide details of how they controlled for these things. For example, take "education". Did they lump together high school graduates (with no college) as all having the same amount of education, without factoring in which high school they went to and how good it was? Whatever they did, there will be a level of imprecision in how they controlled for education, which may be problematic (and we don't know, because they don't tell us what they did).


This is just a small sample of the problems with studies like these.


People often reply something like, "Nothing's perfect, but aren't the studies pretty good indications anyway?" The answer is, if it's pretty good anyway, they ought to understand these weaknesses, write them down, and then write down why their results are pretty good indications anyway. Then that reasoning would be exposed to criticism. One shouldn't assume the many weaknesses of the research can be glossed over without actually writing them down, thoroughly, and writing down why it's OK, in full, and then seeing if there are criticisms of that analysis.

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Leftist Lying: The Issue Is Never the Issue

From Take No Prisoners: The Battle Plan for Defeating the Left by David Horowitz, on leftist lying:
Dishonesty is endemic to the progressive cause because its radical goals cannot be admitted; the dishonesty is a cultural inheritance, instinctive and indispensable. It is no coincidence that Barack Obama, a born-and-bred leftist, is the most compulsive and brazen liar ever to occupy the White House. His true agenda is radical and unpalatable, and therefore he needs to lie about it. What other presidential candidate could have successfully explained away his close association for twenty years with an anti-American racist, Jeremiah Wright, and an anti-American terrorist, William Ayers? Who but the ignorant and the progressively blind could have believed him?

The radical sixties were something of an aberration in that its activists were uncharacteristically candid about their goals. A generation of “new leftists” was rebelling against its Stalinist parents, who had pretended to be liberals to hide their real beliefs and save their political skins. New leftists despised what they thought was the cowardice behind this camouflage. As a “New Left,” they were determined to say what they thought and blurt out their desires: “We want a revolution, and we want it now.” They were actually rather decent to warn others about what they intended. But when they revealed their goals, they set off alarms and therefore didn’t get very far.

Those who remained committed to leftist goals after the sixties learned from their experience. They learned to lie. The strategy of the lie became the new progressive gospel. It is what Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals is really about. Alinsky understood the mistake sixties radicals had made. His message at the time, and to the generations who came after, is easily summarized: Don’t telegraph your goals; infiltrate the Democratic Party and other liberal institutions and subvert them; treat moral principles as dispensable fictions; and never forget that your political agenda is not the achievement of this or that reform but political power to achieve the socialist goal. The issue is never the issue. The issue is always power—how to wring power out of the democratic process, how to turn the political process into an instrument of control, how to use that control to fundamentally transform the United States of America, which is exactly what Barack Obama, on the eve of his election, warned he would do.
I recommend the book.

Though beware, some of the scholarship is flawed. Justin brought this passage to my attention:
In the fifth year of Obama’s rule, forty-seven million Americans were on food stamps and a hundred million were receiving government handouts, while ninety-three million Americans of working age had given up on finding a job and left the work force.
The ninety-three million statistic is given without a source. I investigated a bit and I don't think it's accurate.

But I still think it's a great book.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship About Apple

http://stratechery.com/2015/bad-assumptions/
last quarter Apple’s revenue was downright decimated by the strengthening U.S. dollar; currency fluctuations reduced Apple’s revenue by 5% – a cool $3.73 billion dollars. That, though, is more than Google made in profit last quarter ($2.83 billion). Apple lost more money to currency fluctuations than Google makes in a quarter.
Italics in the original.

The sentence in italics uses the word "money" to refer to, at the same time, Apple's revenue and Google's profit.

I emailed the blog author, as well as John Gruber pointing out the error. If either of them corrects it, I will update this post to give them credit. Will anything be fixed or will they be added to the long list of people with bad scholarship? Let's find out!

Update: Ben Thompson of Stratechery replied to my email. He refused to fix anything and expressed that he was unhappy with me for even bringing it up. He said, "my only reason to use the two numbers is to give a sense of scale", and he thought that was obvious and unobjectionable. This is bullshit. It's not OK to call profit and revenue both "money" at the same time and italicize that misleading sentence. And he's lying to me that his "only reason" for choosing Google to compare Apple with was a sense of scale. I hope you learn a double lesson about 1) how terrible Ben Thompson is personally 2) how terrible many people are, you really have to watch out. Lots of people can seem OK if you never challenge them. But if you do challenge them, their awfulness is revealed. Don't go through life blindly assuming the best about people and leaving them untested.

Just before reading that, I saw this other bad scholarship about Apple:

http://daringfireball.net/linked/2015/01/27/zabitsky

Gruber quotes an interview with market analyist who was very negative on Apple stock. I think it's really great how the Daring Fireball blog follows up on disagreements. It's important to look at ideas in retrospect and see who was right and wrong, and why, and learn from mistakes. When predictions are made made on timescales of a few years or less, it's not that hard to hold people accountable, and yet it isn't done nearly enough.
You have a $270 price target. Is that still too pessimistic?

Zabitsky: It’s formally a one-year target, but in 3 to 6 months we’re going to see that play out. The reason I started to make noise was the rise of Samsung. If you say that now, it’s not challenged.
Apple announced spectacular earnings results yesterday. The most profitable quarter of any company ever. Despite that 5% revenue loss to foreign exchange rates mentioned above. So Zabitsky was badly wrong. That's Gruber's point.

I wanted to add that I don't think it's a coincidence that the same guy who is strongly anti-Apple, and wrong, is also very loose with scholarship. He publishes a one-year price target for Apple, then says, "But I don't really mean what I say when I publish formally. That's really my 3-6 month target, and I published it as a 1-year target because I casually lie in formal predictions."

Apple is good. Many people hate Apple because they hate the good. Their immorality has other consequences than being anti-Apple. Dishonesty is unsurprising. (And note this dishonesty is a lot more severe than the one I criticize above from pro-Apple people. The one above I think is bad but fairly normal. This one about doing formal publications and casually not meaning what you say, I think is really fucking bad.)

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Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller Misquote Obama

Jihad Watch has run this headline:
Obama: Iran has “no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon” because “it would be contrary to their faith”
Pamela Geller has a similar headline:
Obama: Iran Won’t Pursue Nuclear Weapons Because It’s ‘Contrary to Their Faith’
I don't like Obama and don't normally defend him. But this is false, and scholarship comes first. Obama says enough bad things, there's no need to misrepresent what he said and take quotes out of context. It isn't helping anything. It hurts our cause to get things wrong.

The truth needs to come first, and attacking the left second. Attack them when they're actually wrong, not just as a universal policy. And pay attention to the truth so you know when they're wrong, instead of just assuming they always are. Please.

What Obama actually said was, paraphrasing: Iran claims to have no nuclear aspirations because it'd be contrary to their faith, and if Iran is telling the truth about this then they'll be happy to accept Obama's political deal.

Obama didn't say it'd be contrary to their faith for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, nor did Obama say Iran won't try to get a nuclear weapon. The Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller headlines make both of those false claims.

Obama saying Iran claims something that may or may not be true, and Obama believing it himself, are completely different.

Obama was actually careful to emphasize that it was just Iran's claim. Obama used the phrases, "And if in fact what they claim is true" and "if that is true" and "But we don’t know if that’s going to happen." Three times in one paragraph, Obama made it clear that he was talking about Iran's claims which may or may not be true. Yet Jihad Watch ignores that and lies about what Obama was saying.

Here is the full paragraph that Jihad Watch is talking about, which Jihad Watch is well aware of (they included this text at the end of their article):
And if in fact what they claim is true, which is they have no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon, that in fact, according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal. They should be able to get to yes. But we don’t know if that’s going to happen.
As you can see, in an epic scholarship fail, Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller grossly misrepresented what Obama said.

Update: I contacted Spencer and Geller by blog comments, twitter, and email. Except Spencer's email button is broken. My blog comment made it through moderation at Jihad Watch, but at Geller's site it isn't showing up and new comments on the post have been approved after mine, so I may have been censored (to make matters more confusing, her blog software is buggy and sometimes reports a post has different numbers of comments in different places, and my comment showed up on the sidebar as a new comment even when it wasn't visible on the post and the link didn't work). Spencer and Geller were at their computers tweeting and it's been hours, and it hasn't been fixed yet. This kind of thing is urgent because most readers see posts when they are new. So after waiting, I just tweeted David Horowitz too, and let them know with the Front Page Mag contact form. Someone better care. I'm going to lose a lot of respect for them if this isn't fixed. I will update again if anything happens.

Update 2: It's the next day and nothing has improved. I think my comment on Geller's cite was censored. My comment on Jihad Watch was flamed by two people. Nothing has been fixed. This is very sad.

Update 3: I've lost hope. No error correction. Very sad. David Horowitz and associates are now on my Scholarship Watchlist. Someone should fact check them with the same format I used for Ann Coulter (and also the regular way of checking things you find suspicious).

Update 4: When reading a new article, I noticed Geller's site says this above the comments:
Comments at Atlas Shrugs are unmoderated. Posts using foul language, as well as abusive, hateful, libelous and genocidal posts, will be deleted if seen. However, if a comment remains on the site, it in no way constitutes an endorsement by Pamela Geller of the sentiments contained therein.
My blocked post did not have foul language, and it wasn't abusive or hateful, and certainly not genocidal. So what happened to it? The site policy is a lie.

Update 5: 2018-06-20

A few years later I had Robert Spencer's attention on Twitter and had a couple small, positive interactions. He was paying attention to various critics and repeatedly asked them for actual quotes to back up their negative claims about him. So I linked him to this post which explains a genuine error of his with a quote. He responded once to deny there was any error and then ignored me after that:
Sorry, those quotes look like...quotes to me, and represent the news item accurately.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Proposal to Alter Graph Misleadingly



The graph @asymco tweeted is normal enough. Focus your attention on the reply from @Spiff.

The reason some of the revenue data looks compressed on the current revenue scale is because it is. Trying to change that is trying to mislead viewers.

What @Spiff proposes is an example of How To Lie With Statistics. He's intentionally trying to make the graph look different than it normally would to meet an agenda of his and give the viewer a different impression.

His tweet may seem innocuous but it's really bad. He's a bad scholar wannabe. Stuff like this is not OK. Bar graphs for typical quantities should use a linear scale, starting at 0, unless there's a damn good reason to do otherwise. If you do something else, the bars are no longer proportional to each other in the intuitive way, so it misleads viewers.

For example, suppose the graph started with revenue at $50,000,000 instead of 0. Then all the bars would be shorter. This would make the smaller bars shorter by a large percentage, and make them look even shorter compared to the big bars. That'd be really bad! When someone looked at it and thought "this bar is twice as big as this other bar", that would no longer be a valid way of reasoning due to not starting at 0.

Or suppose the graph used a log scale like @Spiff proposed. A log scale mean the revenue would be labelled like $0, $1, $10 $100, $1000, instead of like $0, $10 million, $20 million, $30 million, etc... See how misleading that could be? What it means is, again, when someone compares the sizes of the bars he gets the wrong idea. When he thinks, "This bar is about 20% higher than the bar before it", he's being played for a fool.

Don't play people for a fool. Don't try to trick them. Don't have an agenda for how you want your graph to look and then adjust things to achieve it. Just make a simple graph that makes sense and then leave it alone and let it speak for itself. Tinkering with your graph as @Spiff proposes is dishonest (or clueless and still harmful).

Scholarship, please.

Update: @asymco says:
Share prices are frequently graphed using log scales by default. I don't condone the practice.
I'm sad to hear how common bad scholarship is. That's terrible. But I'm glad @asymco understands this and does a better job. Thumbs up to him! Here's @asymco's blog which I read regularly.

Update 2: @Spiff now agrees with my point about log scales (I think).

Update 3: Here is an example of a very bad article advocating bad use of log charts. It looks mainstream and has a tone of sharing uncontroversial knowledge.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pamela Geller Misreports Amnesty International

So there I was trying to correct Pamela Geller's poor scholarship for the second time. Then this happened:

http://pamelageller.com/2015/03/amnesty-international-palestinians-committed-war-crimes-killed-more-palestinian-civilians-than-israel.html/



If you have difficulty reading the picture, it says I was blocked from commenting on her site. Here is the full text of what I tried to tell her about the article:
Title:
> Amnesty International: Palestinians Committed War Crimes, Killed more Palestinian civilians than Israel

Text:
> Amnesty International said Thursday that Palestinian rocket fire during the 2014 summer war in Gaza had killed more civilians in the Gaza Strip than in Israel.

These do not match. Killing more civilians "than Israel" and "than in Israel" are different things.

The title means: Palestinians killed more Palestinian civilians than the number of Palestinian civilians that Israel killed.

The text about what Amnesty said means: Palestinians killed more Palestinian civilians than the number of Israeli civilians that Palestinians killed.

Please get the story right. These kinds of details are very important.
An important and helpful comment, right? It's a big difference whether Amnesty said anything about how many civilians Israel killed, or didn't discuss that at all. Well, it turns out she blocked me from commenting after I tried to correct a previous error she made... (Which she did not fix.)

Sad.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Deutsch's Mistaken Philosophy and Scholarship

https://twitter.com/DavidDeutschOxf/status/590279039170043904
One should study philosophy only if addressing an originally non-philosophical problem forces one to.
Stay the fuck away from philosophy unless forced.

jfc

Once upon a time, DD promised me he’d write a good book about TCS before he died – I raised the issue because he intentionally left out major important TCS type ideas from FoR and BoI. He lied to me.

also DD misquoted Popper (C&R p95 for me in paper, i checked both paper and ebook, his text does not match popper’s text. it’s chap 2, section III, near start). and dropped italics which isn’t OK either. and DD’d replaced “which arise” with “[from]” just b/c of tweet length limit. (actually just to fit italics he’d have to drop the period on the end, no problem, and the space after the colon, ugh lol. but he still should have done that)

https://twitter.com/curi42/status/590295170651791360

get an ebook and stop inserting typos into what are supposed to be exact quotes. (Popper: “philosophize”. DD supposedly quoting Popper: “philosophise”.)

DD also omitted the quote source. presumably cuz of tweet length limit. it's still his responsibility.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

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Bad Study Claims Lawyers are Racist

Written in Black & White

Exploring Confirmation Bias in Racialized Perceptions of Writing Skills
This is a paper about bias which claims lawyers are racist. But they don't know what bias is:
CONFIRMATION BIAS: A mental shortcut – a bias – engaged by the brain that makes one actively seek information, interpretation and memory to only observe and absorb that which affirms established beliefs while missing data that contradicts established beliefs.
Some mental shortcuts, like some shortcuts while driving, are good ideas. They can be time savers. This is a stupid definition of what a "bias" is.

Some mental shortcuts work, and are valuable. Others don't. It's important to try to figure out which are which. And an unbiased person can make a mistake evaluating whether a particular mental shortcut works well.

Shortcuts don't make one do anything. They are options but can't control you.

The idea of a bias making someone do something makes more sense than a shortcut controlling a person, but is still mistaken. One way to see it's mistaken is to consider that sometimes a person recognizes he's biased and doesn't obey the bias.

The dictionary doesn't know what a bias is either:
a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly
Is the belief rational? This definition doesn't care.

I believe Objectivism is better than most rivals one might compare it with. But some anti-Objectivists believe I treat them unfairly in discussion by not conceding that Ayn Rand is a monster.

Recognizing something is superior isn't automatically bias. Some things are superior. Bias has to do with irrationality: e.g. believing something is superior for bad reasons you are unwilling to reconsider.
The partners were originally given 4 weeks to complete the editing and rating, but we had to extend deadline to 7 weeks in order to obtain more responses.
The study changed the rules midway in order to reach different conclusions than it would have if it followed the original plan.
we deliberately inserted 22 different errors
Maybe the response rate was worse than expected because people weren't thrilled about editing an essay containing 22 deliberate errors. I wonder how realistic the errors were, and why they didn't use a real research memo. Using an artificial memo adds an extra source of error: it could be poorly designed.
Name: Thomas Meyer

Seniority: 3rd Year Associate
Alma Mater: NYU Law School
Race/Ethnicity: African American
Half the participants saw the same headings except with "Caucasian" instead of "African American". I see a danger here that people would find it strange to be told the Race/Ethnicity of the author of what they are reading, and therefore act differently than in regular life.

One possibility is some people saw this was a transparent attempt at a racism study and gave a reply to manipulate the results according to their political preference. Others might decide not to participate when they see this. It's important the participants don't know it's a racism study, but this is a big clue.

An even bigger issue here is there was no control group which received memos with no Race/Ethnicity heading. Wouldn't a control group be a good idea?
There was no significant correlation between a partner’s race/ethnicity and the differentiated patterns of errors found between the two memos. There was also no significant correlation between a partner’s gender and the differentiated patterns of errors found between the two memos.
What about the partner's political party? His age? Or a million other things.

Why are race/ethnicity and gender the two things they looked at? It's plausible that one major US political party is more racist than the other one. And it's plausible that old people are more racist than young people.
In order to create a study where we could control for enough variables to truly see the impact of confirmation bias, we did not study the potential variances that can be caused due to the intersection of race/ethnicity, gender, generational differences and other such salient identities.
How does ignoring the age of participants make the study better controlled?
The exact same memo, averaged a 3.2/5.0 rating under our hypothetical “African American” Thomas Meyer and a 4.1/5.0 rating under hypothetical “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer.
This is their main point: they claim lawyers are racist.
We undertook this study with the hypothesis that unconscious confirmation bias in a supervising lawyer’s assessment of legal writing would result in a more negative rating if that writing was submitted by an African American lawyer in comparison to the same submission by a Caucasian lawyer.
What about conscious bias? They explicitly said the race. A participant could consciously notice.
When expecting to find fewer errors, we find fewer errors. When expecting to find more errors, we find more errors. That is unconscious confirmation bias. Our evaluators unconsciously found more of the errors in the “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo, but the final rating process was a conscious and unbiased analysis based on the number of errors found.
This is a story which isn't contradicted by their study. Many other stories also aren't contradicted by the study. Why are they concluding this particular story? For example, the evaluators could have had conscious bias. Saying it's unconscious bias is just making up a story about what happened.

Other things could be going on. Maybe the writing style of the memo was culturally white. Then the people told it had it had a white author would just read it and nothing special happens. But the people told it had a black author might notice the clash between the white style and the black author claim. This could get them to wake up and pay more attention because there was something unexpected or surprising or interesting about the memo. They could then have found more errors simply because they were more awake while reading.
When partners say that they are evaluating assignments without bias
Wait, were they asked if they were racist? Wouldn't that give away what kind of study it was? Or was that only done afterwards? Why wasn't the procedure explained?

In any case, wouldn't you expect a lot of conscious racists to lie? So people claiming they aren't racist doesn't differentiate between conscious and unconscious racists very well.

Conclusion

The paper is too light on details, and has too many errors, to make a big deal out of. If racism is a big problem, it shouldn't be that hard to do a high quality study to show it. I would expect that already to have been done, given the intense interest in this topic.

So, people claiming racism is a big problem: where is that high quality study? Link me to it or tell me why it hasn't been done yet.

Addendum

At the end of the paper there is some extra stuff like brags about how the people doing the study are biased. They get paid to teach people to be less racist. Their study is marketing for their services. Is that sad or is it amusing? I don't know. I want to point out one more error:
EXAMPLE: In one law firm where we found that minority summer associates were consistently being evaluated more negatively than their majority counterparts, we created an interruption mechanism to infuse the subjective with objective. We worked with the firm to create an Assignment Committee, comprised of 3 partners through whom certain assignments were distributed to the summer associates and through whom the summer associates submitted work back to the partners who needed the work done. When the work was evaluated, the partners evaluating the work did not know which associate had completed the work. The assignments for this process were chosen judiciously, and there was a lot of work done to ensure buy-in from all partners. At the end of the summer, every associate had at least 2 assignments that had been graded blindly. The firm then examined how the blind evaluations compared with the rest of the associate’s evaluations and found that the blind evaluations were generally more positive for minorities and women and less positive for majority men.
It could be that people give better evaluations to their friends. And it could be that of the new employees, white men have the best social skills, due to different upbringings. So they make friends with the people doing the evaluating the best, and then get the best evaluations when it's not blind. But when there's blind evaluations, the social skills are irrelevant.

This is merely a story I made up. The point is it's possible. What happened in the example could involve racism by lawyers, or not. That the study authors only think about how their material is compatible with racism happening, but don't consider and discuss the non-racist explanations that account for it, shows their own selective attention, which they would call "bias".

[I wrote this post in one hour.]

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The Parable of the Vases

Ann Coulter tweeted a bunch of praise for A Review of Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own today. She told people to buy the book. And she indicated her agreement with the "parable of the vases" .

I disagree with the parable. Here it is:
The parable begins with a simplifying assumption. This is that it takes exactly two workers to make a vase: one to blow it from molten glass and another to pack it for delivery. Now suppose that two workers, A1 and A2, are highly skilled—if they are assigned to either task they are guaranteed not to break the vase. Suppose two other workers, B1 and B2, are less skilled—specifically, for either task each has a 50% probability of breaking the vase.

Now suppose you are worker A1. If you team up with A2, you produce a vase every attempt. However, if you team up with B1 or B2, then only 50% of your attempts will produce a vase. Thus, your productivity is higher when you team up with A2 than with one of the B workers. Something similar happens with the B workers. They are more productive when they are paired with an A worker than with a fellow B worker.

So far, everything I’ve said is probably pretty intuitive. But here’s what’s not so intuitive. Suppose you’re the manager of the vase company and you want to produce as many vases as possible. Are you better off by (i) pairing A1 with A2 and B1 with B2, or (ii) pairing A1 with one of the B workers and A2 with the other B worker?

If you do the math, it’s clear that the first strategy works best. Here, the team with two A workers produces a vase with 100% probability, and the team with the two B workers produces a vase with 25% probability. Thus, in expectation, the company produces 1.25 vases per time period. With the second strategy, both teams produce a vase with 50% probability. Thus, in expectation, the company produces only one vase per time period.

The example illustrates how workers’ productivity is often interdependent—specifically, how your own productivity increases when your co-workers are skilled.
This is a dirty math trick (using the prestige and authority of math to trick people about a non-math issue) and the author doesn't explain what's going on. The different results are due to different amounts of idle vase-packing labor. In one scenario, A2 sits around doing nothing half the time (a loss of .5). In the other, B2 sits around doing nothing half the time (a loss of .25). A2 sitting idle is a bigger loss. That's all it is. Both potential pairings have a total of 1.5 value. They come out to 1 or 1.25 simply based on whether .25 or .5 value is sitting idle.

This can easily be fixed by hiring more appropriate labor ratios. If you have vase packers sitting idle, hire more vase blowers. You basically want two B workers doing vase blowing for each vase packer, not 1-to-1. They will on average produce one vase per vase-blowing cycle for the packer to work on. Then everything works out OK and, basically, you get the expected results: that 50% efficient workers are worth half as much as 100% efficient workers. (That's ignoring cost of materials, transaction costs to hire more people, needing a bigger factory to fit more workers, etc. When you factor all that stuff in, then yes one 100% efficient worker is better than 2 50% efficient workers. That's not what this parable is about, though).

(This is all on the assumption that people are simply assigned one job and stick to it, and that A1 and B1 do the vase blowing and A2 and B2 do the vase packing. If the packers would simply do some extra blowing when there's nothing to pack, that would also solve the problem and ruin the parable in the same way that hiring more blowers than packers would ruin the intended result.)

It's not efficient workers working with inefficient workers that's wasteful in general. It's people sitting around doing nothing that's wasteful. The parable hides people having time spent idle which is where the entire mathematical difference is coming from.

The book reviewer is very impressed with his bad parable:
To illustrate the latter effect, Jones’s constructs an example, which I call “the parable of the vases.” In a moment I’ll explain the details of the example, but first let me briefly discuss its importance. The example has significantly affected my thinking, and it is one of the highlights of the book. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the parable ranks as one of the all-time great examples in economics. Although it is not quite as insightful and important as Ronald Coase’s crops-near-the-train-track example (which illustrates the efficiency of property rights), I believe it is approximately as insightful and important as: (i) Adam Smith’s pin-factory example (which illustrates the benefits of division of labor) and (ii) Friedrich Hayek’s example of an entrepreneur knowing about an unused ship (which illustrates the value of particular, versus general, knowledge).
This kind of bragging about something that's wrong and misleading is not very notable. What was notable to me was that Ann Coulter was fooled and thought it was a good point.
The example generates an even more remarkable implication. It says that, if you are a manager of a company (or the central planner of an entire economy), then your optimal strategy is to clump your best workers together on the same project rather than spreading them out amongst your less-able workers.
I actually do agree with something like this conclusion, although I don't consider it remarkable at all. But the parable of the vases is a bad argument. A good argument covering part of this issue is The Mythical Man-Month.

I'd add that this point about mixing workers applies to peers. Putting a better worker in a leadership and management role interacting with inferior workers does make sense.

So I propose that instead of bringing in lots of low skill workers here, we should encourage a few top quality Americans to emmigrate and be leaders that run the governments and major businesses of other countries.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

Daring Fireball Misquotes Yankees

Apple blog Daring Fireball posted bad scholarship today:
YANKEES PRESIDENT CALLS COMCAST ‘GUTLESS’

DSLreports:
“It’s a typical gutless act by a cable carrier seeking to promote its own self-interest,” Levine told the NY Daily News. “This amounts to nothing more than a money grab. Comcast, who said it had an agreement in principle with YES, is saving millions of dollars now by not airing YES in the offseason.”
Calling one of Comcast's acts gutless is not calling Comcast gutless.

This kind of sloppiness with the facts is inexcusable. I know it's not the most serious, scholarly blog in the first place, but that's no excuse for misquoting people. And it's a news site which gets access to some Apple press conference invites and review units of new products, so it should at least not post things which are blatantly, factually false.

The false Daring Fireball title is a truncated version of the linked article's title which has the same mistake. So DSL Reports also messed up too, but that's no excuse.

I contacted Daring Fireball about the error and will update this post if it's fixed or there's a response.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

STD Scholarship

Scholarship for STD risks and test accuracy is extremely bad. The information on this topic is awful.

One paper on HSV IgG (herpes, many cases of which are called "cold sores") testing stood out to me because it had a good section:
Summary of Test
1. Prepare 1:51 dilutions of Calibrator(s), Controls and samples in the test set Diluent. Mix well.
2. Place 100 μl of the dilutions in the Coated Wells; reserve one well for the reagent blank.
3. Incubate at room temperature for 30 ± 5 minutes.
4. Drain wells thoroughly. Wash wells 4 times with Wash Solution and drain.
5. Place 2 drops (or 100 μl) of Conjugate in wells.
6. Incubate at room temperature for 30 ± 5 minutes.
7. Drain wells thoroughly. Wash wells 4 times with Wash Solution and drain.
8. Place 2 drops (or 100 μl) of Substrate in wells.
9. Incubate at room temperature for 30 ± 5 minutes.
10. Stop the enzyme reaction with 2 drops (or 100 μl) of Stop Reagent.
11. Read absorbance at 405 nm against reagent blank.
It's great to specify details like washing 4 times and the 5 minute error margins on incubation times.

This is much better than most "scientific" papers I've seen which do not give repeatable procedures for doing the experiment with this sort of detail. I think maybe it's because herpes testing is actually repeated a lot (to test many different people), whereas most scientific experiments are only done once or a few times.

No excuses though. All science should meet this sort of standard or higher. (Honestly it's really not that hard or amazing. This shouldn't be unusual.)

But later the paper says something awful:
A negative serological test does not exclude the possibility of past infection. Following primary HSV infection, antibody may fall to undetectable levels and then be boosted by later clinical infection with the same, or heterologous virus type. Such an occurrence may lead to incorrect interpretations of seroconversion and primary infection, or negative antibody status. [my emphasis]
Heterologous is a prestigious word meaning, basically, it's a different strain of the virus.

So they are saying something may later be boosted by infection with the same virus or a different virus. Why would you say it could be either the same or different? And why present that like it's a fancy, complex point requiring sophisticated and hard-to-read language? They are using fancy words like "heterologous" but I think they didn't really think through what they are actually trying to say. The content is confused and confusing.

And the comma after "the same" is incorrect grammar. They're trying to write in a fancy way but are getting the basics wrong. This is written to impress and intimidate people, not to communicate.

The authors are more interested in sounding like smart medical researches than actually communicating effectively.

This reminds me of a Richard Feynman story:
There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read – something he had written ahead of time. I started to read the damn thing, and my eyes were coming out: I couldn’t make head nor tail of it! I figured it was because I hadn’t read any of the books on that list. I have this uneasy feeling of “I’m not adequate,” until finally I said to myself, “I’m gonna stop, and read one sentence slowly, so I can figure out what the hell it means.”

So I stopped – at random – and read the next sentence very carefully. I can’t remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: “The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels.” I went back and forth over it, and translated. You know what it means? “People read.”
Another interesting part of the paper was the data that around 70% of adults have herpes (and another roughly 15% test ambiguous, and 15% negative). This is in line with other sources I've seen. The result is that most STD testing skips herpes (unless there's a visible lesion), even though it's a common STD! Many doctors discourage blood tests for herpes. Some clinics or government run healthcare services don't do herpes blood testing at all, or refuse it to most people. People sort of act like herpes is too common to worry about, so just don't make any effort to avoid infection. No doubt this attitude contributes to so many people having herpes. (You may want to consider getting a herpes test. Herpes is contagious some of the time even if you have no visible sores.)

On a related note, many people who "get tested" for STDs don't even pay attention to which STDs they've been tested for. Lots of people are promiscuous without giving much thought to what STDs exist, what tests exist, how good the tests are, how long things take to show up on the tests with what accuracy, etc. (People are also extremely reckless about believing their partners' claims about safety. People lie to their spouses about their sexual activities, so believing someone you're hooking up with – who has to say how safe s/he is to get laid – is pretty foolish.)

Many people also think if they use a condom that is "safe sex" and they don't really have to worry about anything. This is stupid and dangerous. Using condoms doesn't make you immune or take away the value of thinking about what you're doing, researching STDs, etc. (I think one of the reasons STD information is so bad is that no one cares. People don't try to research this stuff in any kind of reasonable way. At most they just find some doctor saying don't worry about something, or assume percentages over 90 are high, and go back to their social life. For example, lots of people seem to think 97% is a high and safe accuracy for an HIV test. I'm not even joking. For fucking HIV, 97% is not something to treat as plenty safe!)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad iPad Screen Size Scholarship

Displaymate.com has a lengthy article which appears to look at iPads in great detail. It presents itself as a rigorous comparison which a large amount of work was put into. It gives the impression that they dealt with all the details, carefully, so you don't have to. And it presents factual information which you are intended to believe is true.

An example statement they make is,
we examine in-depth the LCD displays on the Apple iPad mini 4, the iPad Air 2, and iPad Pro based on objective Lab measurement data and criteria.
Lab measurements! They sure put a lot of work into getting everything right. Didn't they?

But people suck at dealing with details. They may well have tried hard, but they have presented false information as if it were a fact. Here's the relevant part of their fact chart:



What caught my attention was the claim that iPad Air 2 is 7.8 inches tall while iPad Pro is 7.7 inches wide. I remembered Apple saying the Air's height and Pro's width matched during a presentation about new multitasking features. (As I remember it, Apple basically said you can fit a whole iPad Air on the pro screen and then have an area left over to the side for a second app.)

So I thought, huh, Apple fudged it. I thought they'd present an exact match here, but actually it's just pretty close.

But then I noticed the number of pixels does exactly match. The Air is 2048 pixels tall. The pro is 2048 pixels wide.

And the Pixels Per Inch exactly matches too at 264.

But if you have the same number of pixels, and the same number of pixels per inch, then the number of inches should also match. The chart contradicts itself.

So how many inches is it? Assuming the pixels and pixels per inch are correct then it's: 2048/264.0 = 7.757575 repeating.

So the actual value is between the 7.7 and 7.8 inches given, and a little closer to 7.8. Both numbers should have been rounded up to 7.8 inches since that's closer.

I wouldn't mind so much if both numbers were rounded the same direction, either way. But getting the same number in two adjacent boxes on your chart, and then rounding one up and the other down, is really not OK. This is a factual error caused by a methodology error. Whatever one's policy for rounding numbers, the same policy should be used for the entire article.

I emailed the article author and will update this post if it's fixed. The article did invite comment. As usual, I understand that mistakes can happen. We'll see if he's willing to fix it. Willingness to fix mistakes, or not, is even more important than making mistakes, or not, in the first place.

Update 2015-12-03:

They replied:
You have incorrectly assumed that both displays have exactly the same 264.0 ppi in order to calculate their width and height. This is a technically weak assumption.

We used the published screen size to calculate the width and height. Both methods are subject to a round off error of the Apple published specifications, but ours is the more technically sound one because it only assumes that the displays have square pixels, which is true for all current high-end displays to very high precision.

A 2732x2048 pixel 12.9" screen is 7.74" by 10.32" which is 7.7 x 10.3 as published

A 2048x1536 pixel 9.7" screen is 7.76" by 5.82" which is 7.8 x 5.8 as published
So they did it by assumption, not lab measurement. And they did the calculation using Apple's tenths of diagonal inches number as exact, even though it's easy to guess that's rounded. Basing their numbers directly on Apple's rounded tenths of diagonal inches is not a reasonable way to end up publishing that two things which are basically the same length are a tenth of an inch apart.

The 264 PPI number from Apple is also rounded, but it could still easily be that the displays Apple gives the same PPI number for are actually made in the same way and have the same PPI. PPI is not something Apple would want to manufacture in lots of slightly different variants, they'd prefer reuse. (If Apple was fine with slightly different PPIs, you'd often see PPI numbers that are a couple apart, rather than different by at most a rounding error, but you don't see that in Apple's lineup.)

So I still think DisplayMates are mistaken and their article is unreasonable. And I think it's bad to publish seemingly contradictory numbers without saying the methodology you used so that readers can judge for themselves if it's reasonable. And they've refused to change this.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

curi reads a correlation study

This is my real-time unedited (just formatting cleanup) comments on an "original research article" in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, "Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch".

anonymous-1 wrote:
study says drug can help learn perfect pitch:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3848041/pdf/fnsys-07-00102.pdf
they claim it's double blind, but doesn't someone being able to do something he otherwise couldn't (they claim) tell him which group he's in and therefore unblind it?

> On days 8–14 of each treatment, we instructed participants to undergo an on-line training program for approximately 10 min per day. During each online training session, they observed a video, which trained associations between piano tones and proper names.

so it could actually be a drug for better boring video watching focus?

oh god they put ppl thru a bunch of junk tests to try to control for mood, depression, mania, being smart

> We counted a training session as complete if the subject both watched the full length of the video (up to within 15 s of the end) and answered the subsequent test question correctly.

did they decide those rules before they started?

> There was no significant correlation between the number of completed training sessions and performance

hahaha

> The experiment was double-blind, as neither participants, nor experimenters knew the randomization for treatment conditions. However, we did ask participants to intuit in which arm they received VPA treatment, and why they thought so. We also instructed them to write down any side effects they experienced during the experiment. Out of the 18 participants who completed the second treatment arm, 17 guessed correctly.

hahaha i told you it wasn't blind

fucking liars

they found out during the study it was not blind

then publish it as a blind study

what scumbags


i think the prior study asserting the critical period exists at all might be more interesting. at least if it's any good. b/c i find a critical period a bit intuitively surprising. like i wouldn't rly expect it

> Second, the analysis of the crossover, i.e., of the 17 participants for whom we have data from both arms, revealed an order-dependent effect of treatment. For participants who took VPA first, AP performance was significantly higher after VPA treatment than after placebo. In contrast, for participants who initially took placebo, there was no such difference. It may be that carry-over effects impeded performance on the AP task in the second treatment arm.

that's odd

> Relatedly, it needs to be noted that we did not test how long the effect of the improvement in AP perception lasted.

so they did not study learning perfect pitch. they studied doing better on certain tests while actively on drugs, but not any kind of longer term skill improvement. so the study title:

> Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch

that's bullshit. they didn't study that.

> In sum, our study is the first to show a change in AP with any kind of drug treatment. The finding that VPA can restore plasticity in a fundamental perceptual system in adulthood provides compelling evidence that one of the modes of action for VPA in psychiatric treatment may be to facilitate reorganization and rewiring of otherwise firmly established pathways in the brain and its epigenome (Shen et al., 2008).

wow such bullshit

like it's bad enough they are claiming it creates plasticity for pitch stuff – maybe it just makes u better at pitch without plasticity? among other things – but then to start saying they found out about psychiatry... ugh
the big picture tho is this is explanationless "science". they don't know what VPA does or how it works, and they are focusing on correlations (btwn taking VPA and high scores on pitch tests) not explanations

> If confirmed by future replications, our study will provide a behavioral paradigm for the assessment of the potential of psychiatric drugs to induce plasticity. In particular, the AP task may be useful as a behavioral correlate. If further studies continue to reveal specificity of VPA to the AP task (or to tasks on which training or intervention is provided), critical information will have been garnered concerning when systemic drug treatments may safely be used to reopen neural plasticity in a specific, targeted way.

i think they are saying here that they have no idea if VPA (their drug) has anything to do with pitch, or just helps learning more generally

the intended use for approving psychiatry drugs is disturbing

Refuting the study like this took under 20 minutes. Then people discussed the point about whether the study was blind:

anonymous-1:
    How does that make it not double-blind?
curi:
    if you know what group you're in, that isn't blind.
    do you know what blind means? *confused*
anonymous-1:
    but you don't know, you guess
curi:
    they could tell which they were in
anonymous-1:
    they guessed which they were in
curi:
    so you think 17 out of 18 got it right by coincidence, and there was no unblinding information?
anonymous-1:
    still blind?
    they weren't told until after the study
    this is a standard thing in psych studies to find out whether the person can guess about placebo?
curi:
    if you can guess better than chance, then you have information about which group you're in (or ESP). that information means it's not fully blind. in this case they appear to have quite a lot of such info.
    "standard thing in psych studies" is not reassuring!!!
Justin Mallone:
    ya lol
    psych studies typically trash
anonymous-1:
    not by coincidence, by stuff like feeling the drug
curi:
    right, that makes it not blind.
anonymous-1:
    so yes no unblinding info
curi:
    feeling it is unblinding info
anonymous-1:
    you don't know for sure though
    hmmm
    why should that be considered unblinding?
curi:
    but if you know (from feeling it) better than chance, you know something about whether you have the placebo or not. you have information about it (just not PERFECT information if you don't know for SURE). so it's not fully blind. (and, again, they seem to in this case have had LOTS of info, so not close to blind)
Justin Mallone:
    doing double blind can be hard
curi:
    yeah in medical studies they sometimes use complex active placebos to try to make stuff blind
Justin Mallone:
    the fact that lots of stuff is done incompetently doesn’t lower the bar tho
curi:
    like try to find stuff that'll have the same side effects and other feelable consequences
anonymous-1:
    oh cool @ complex active placebos
    didn't know about that. makes sense

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Adios America Fact Check

I fact checked Adios, America: The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole by Ann Coulter.

Method: I randomly selected 5 chapters. For each chapter, I selected a random endnote to check. I used a random number generator. Aftewards, I personally selected 5 more issues to check. I chose issues I thought were important like the number of illegal immigrants in the US.

I scored each issue up to 100% based on scholarship, not politics. Coulter's average score across 10 checks was: 87.5%. But that's just a quick overview. My main focus was on checking the details and explaining why she was right or wrong.

Endnote quotes are blue, quotes from the main book are green, and other quotes are yellow. Bold in quotes was added by me for emphasis.

Chapter 13, Endnote 33

32. Congressional Budget Office, “Migrants’ Remittances,” 10.

33. In surveys, 70 percent of illegal immigrants from Mexico say the money they send home is used exclusively for consumption; 96 percent say it is used for both consumption and savings. Ibid.
The majority of the money sent by immigrants to Mexico is used for “consumption”—i.e., to buy Carlos Slim’s telephone service, shop at Carlos Slim’s department stores, and eat in Carlos Slim’s restaurants.33
It was easy to find page 10 of the pdf online:



The 70% figure matches the report. This means the book text, which says "majority", is correct.

96% is the sum for either consumption only, or both consumption and savings. Coulter's wording is confusing. It sounds like she's saying 96% remit for both purposes, when actually 70% were remitting for consumption only. What she should have written, and presumably meant, is that 96% remit at least partially for consumption.

Note that Coulter says "In surveys". I appreciate that accuracy. She isn't saying this is actually true, it's just a survey result.

I wouldn't take off points for Coulter just writing in her style which isn't always literal. But I think this is an actual wording error in an endnote, not a style choice to entertain readers. However, there's no serious error which would mislead a reader about what's happening in world affairs. It's just a technical wording error in an endnote. It doesn't meet my ideal standards, but it doesn't really hurt the book either.

Score: 85%.

Chapter 3, Endnote 23

23. David North, “Lessons Learned from the Legalization Programs of the 1980s,” ILW.com, http://www.ilw.com/articles/2005,0302-north.shtm; and David S. North and Anna Mary Portz, The U.S. Alien Legalization Program (Washington, DC: TransCentury Development Associates, June 1989), 82–90.
Under the special agricultural amnesty of the 1986 bill, the INS received nearly one hundred thousand applications from “farmworker” illegal aliens living in the lush, fertile farmland of New York City. Another hundred thousand applications were mailed in directly from Mexico.23
From Coulter's link:
In the first place, IRCA’s objective was to offer legal status primarily to people who were in the United States at that time that they applied. There was a minor exception to that in that some 100,000 or so of the 3,000,000 applicants were allowed to file for SAW status at the southern border or at U.S. consulates in Mexico—but they had to claim that they had previously been in the United States doing a sufficient amount of farm work to qualify.
Many an urban resident claimed SAW status, many without justification. There were countless anecdotes of fur-coat wearing Europeans seeking SAW status in Manhattan, applicants who contended that the cotton they harvested was purple, or that cherries were dug out of the ground, or that one used a ladder to pick strawberries.
100,000 people is a "minor exception"? And the policy was to let them file from Mexico if they simply claimed to be legit? Dumb. But Coulter said the applications were "mailed" from Mexico, whereas this talks about applying at the border or a consulate.

And what about the 100,000 "farmworker[s]" applying from New York City? Let's check the cited book. It discusses some ridiculous fraud similar in spirit to what Coulter wrote. But page 83 contradicts Coulter:
there were 28,889 applications filed in New York City
That's not "some 100,000". Page 89 is also relevant:
There were some 118,000 applications filed outside the U.S., all but a handful in Mexico.
The number is right. But this says "filed", not "mailed", so I think Coulter exaggerated on that point.

The gist of what Coulter says in this part of the book is roughly accurate. There was a lot of fraud and the government did a bad job. But she wrote 100k and cited a book which says 29k. That's simply false. However, it doesn't mislead the reader. If she simply changed the number, her passage would be OK. 29k and 100k are both big numbers, so the general idea is correctly communicated. I really don't like errors, but it's only a technical error, so I'm giving half credit.

Score: 50%.

I tweeted Coulter about this error, but received no response. I'd be happy to raise Coulter's score if she acknowledged the error and corrected it for the next edition.

Chapter 2, Endnote 16

15. See, e.g., William Branigin, “INS Accused of Giving In to Politics; White House Pressure Tied to Citizen Push,” Washington Post, March 4, 1997.

16. See ibid.
A year before the 1996 presidential election, the Clinton administration undertook a major initiative to make 1 million immigrants citizens in time to vote. The White House demanded that applications be processed twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Criminal background checks were jettisoned for hundreds of thousands of applicants, resulting in citizenship being granted to at least seventy thousand immigrants with FBI criminal records and ten thousand with felony records.15 Murderers, robbers, and rapists were all made citizens so that the Democrats would have a million foreign voters on the rolls by Election Day.16
From the article:
It is not clear how many of the 180,000 immigrants whose criminal backgrounds were not checked had criminal records that would have disqualified them from being sworn in as U.S. citizens, but at least some felons have slipped through. Among them were an Ecuadoran wanted for murder and a Vietnamese immigrant who faced deportation for two felony convictions and a recent parole violation.
So that's at least one murderer, and presumably more in the other 180,000 people who didn't get a background check. No doubt that's enough people with no criminal background check to include some robbers and rapists too.
While murder has always disqualified an applicant no matter when it was committed, other serious crimes such as robbery or assault could make someone ineligible if they were committed within five years of the application.
And to make matters worse, they weren't even trying to exclude robbers and thugs who commited their major crimes 5 years ago.
The auditors also found that another 71,000 immigrants were granted citizenship despite having criminal histories on file with the FBI. Of them, about 10,800 were charged with felonies.
This article, which complains several times about Republicans, is conceding everything. Since it's a hostile article – this is what Coulter's opponents are actually willing to admit to – I'm going to accept these numbers.

180k is close enough to "hundreds of thousands". It rounds up to 200k. The 70k and 10k figures are good. The murders, robbers and rapists claim is good.

Score: 100%.

Chapter 15, Endnote 28

28. Sarah Stuteville, “Hate Crimes Inflict Fear That May Never Fade,” Seattle (WA) Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/hate-crimes-inflict-fear-that-may-never-fade/.
They will no longer be subjected to “hate crimes and discrimination” in America—as put by Pramila Jayapal, who was born in India, but now represents Seattle in the Washington State House.28
I appreciate endnotes which provide the link to the material.
Hate crimes and discrimination comes from a lack of understanding and information about who these populations are, as well as a desire to target and other-ize people,” says Washington state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, who was founder of Hate Free Zone (now OneAmerica), an organization formed after 9/11 to address backlash against immigrant communities.
The Seattle Times is a perfectly reasonable source for quoting what someone said. Jayapal was indeed born in India.

Score: 100%.

Chapter 14, Endnote 10

9. Behar, “The Secret Life of Mahmud.”

10. Ibid.
Luckily for Mahmud, just as his tourist visa was expiring six months later, Schumer’s farmworker amnesty became law. So Mahmud submitted an application, claiming to have worked on a farm in South Carolina, despite having never left New York, except one short visit to the Michigan Islamic community.10
Happily, Coulter actually links the article in a previous endnote.
Six months after [Mahmud] Abouhalima arrived in New York, his tourist visa expired. Fortunately for him, Congress was preparing to authorize an amnesty program for more than 1 million illegal aliens who merely had to assert that they worked as migrant farmers. Abouhalima applied for amnesty in 1986, received temporary legal residence in 1988 and became a permanent resident two years after that. Through an attorney, Abouhalima now claims he worked for seven months on a farm in South Carolina. But his current wife told a TIME reporter that she can remember no travels outside the New York metropolitan area except for one trip to Michigan to visit friends. "The amnesty program was a joke," says Duke Austin, a spokesman at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Since documentation wasn't required, the burden was on the government to prove the aliens were not farmers. Fraud was widespread and enforcement virtually impossible."
Time reports Mahmud's own wife told a Time reporter that Mahmud's a liar. There was no checking by the government, no need for documentation. Everything Coulter writes matches her source. Looks good to me.

Score: 100%.

Selected Checking

That concludes the random endnote checks. Now I'll choose 5 major issues to look at:

How many illegals?

There were 11 million illegals in the United States as of 2005, according to everyone. Thus, for example, the pro-browning Pew Hispanic Center estimated the number of illegal aliens in the United States to be 11.1 million in March 2005.26 The Department of Homeland Security put it at 10.5 million in January 2005.27 Other estimates from the New York Times, the Center for Immigration Studies, the Urban Institute, and the Current Population Survey produced similar numbers.28
Each endnote offers a link. 26:



27:
DHS estimates that the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States numbered 11.6 million in January 2008 compared to 11.8 million in January 2007, 11.3 million in January 2006, 10.5 million in January 2005
28:
The latest estimate is that the United States has 11.5 million undocumented foreigners, and it's those immigrants — the illegal ones — who have galvanized Congress.
That last quote is from the New York Times, from 2006 not 2005. But close enough. It does reflect that the NYT thought there were "similar" to 11 million illegals in 2005.
The reason all the estimates from Pew, DHS, CIS, the Urban Institute, and the Current Population Survey are nearly identical—11 million!—is that they all use the same census data.
THE REAL NUMBER IS 30 MILLION ILLEGALS [Coulter's emphasis, it's a section title.]
There’s good reason to believe the census numbers are wrong. In 2005, two Bear Stearns analysts, Robert Justich and Betty Ng, warned clients that there was “significant evidence” that the census undercounted the illegal immigrant population by at least half.29 They estimated the number at closer to 20 million—and they were advising clients about something important: their money.

Justich and Ng discounted the census data because it relied on illegal aliens answering surveys.
29. Robert Justich and Betty Ng, “The Underground Labor Force Is Rising to the Surface,” Bear Stearns Asset Management, January 3, 2005, http://www.steinreport.com/BearStearnsStudy.pdf.
The report has some reasonable points:
The strongest evidence supporting our theory that the actual illegal population is double the consensus estimates lies within several micro trends at the community level. We see very dramatic increases in services required in communities that have become gateways for immigration.
Based on several criteria, we believe that immigration is growing significantly faster than the consensus estimates:
1. Remittances
2. Housing permits in gateway communities
3. School enrollment
4. Cross border flows
The rate of increase in remittances far exceeds the increases in Mexicans residing in the U.S. and their wage growth. Between 1995 and 2003, the official tally of Mexicans has climbed 56%, and median weekly wage has increased by 10%. Yet total remittances jumped 199% over the same period. Even considering the declining costs of money transfers, the growth of remittances remains astounding.
In New Jersey, the three gateway towns of New Brunswick, Elizabeth, and Newark exemplify this trend. According to the census, the combined population in these three towns between 1990 and 2003 grew only 5.6%, less than the 9% reported in the rest of the three corresponding counties. Yet housing permits in these three towns shot up over six-fold, while the rest of the three counties only saw a three-fold increase. More importantly, 80% of these permits were designated for multiple dwellings, so the corresponding increase in people accommodated are even greater. Official statistics state that illegal immigrants in New Jersey have jumped 110% during the same period – an estimate that is inconsistent with the housing statistics, our discussions with local realtors and the changes that we have visually observed in the demographic landscape.
“To a significant degree, high rates of immigration offset the effect of a declining number of births on school enrollment.” Administrators have been surprised that school population growth significantly exceeded earlier projections, thus creating overcrowding in many school districts.
Pulitzer Prize reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele recently reported for TIME magazine that “the number of illegal aliens flooding into the United States this year will total 3 million. It will be the largest wave since 2001 and roughly triple the number of immigrants that will come to the U.S. by legal means.” The TIME investigation, according to Mr. Barlett, relied not only on figures projected by the U.S. Border Patrol, but also on the reporter’s extensive investigations along the Mexican border at factories, local communities, and the district offices of the U.S. Border Patrol.
I don't think this is a perfect answer by any means. The Bear Stearns analysts don't have all the answers. But it's some reasonable information on the topic. Coulter herself emphasizes the topic doesn't have good enough data and statistics. For example:
YOU WILL SPEND MORE TIME TRYING TO OBTAIN BASIC CRIME STATISTICS ABOUT immigrants in America than trying to sign up for Obamacare. The facts aren’t there.
and
In just a few decades, Minnesota has gone from being approximately 99 percent German, Dutch, Finnish, Danish, and Polish to 20 percent African immigrant,7 including at least one hundred thousand Somalis.8 And that’s not counting the Somalis who have recently left the country to fight with al Qaeda and ISIS. One hundred thousand is just an estimate. We don’t know precisely how many Somalis the federal government has brought in as “refugees” because the government won’t tell us. The public can’t be trusted with the truth.
The big picture is we don't know all the numbers. Coulter's numbers make more sense than numbers she's challenging. That's good. And she doesn't overestate her case by claiming perfection with her stats.

I'd say Coulter did a good job here. She presented the reader with useful information and put it in context in reasonable way. She challenged some claims that deserved challenging and gave some alternatives to consider that are more reasonable. They're imperfect, but the main point is people should stop accepting the 11 million figure and reconsider. Coulter's right about that.

Score: 95%.

A quarter of Mexico's population?

America has already taken in more than one-quarter of Mexico’s entire population, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of census data.9 The United States has more Hispanics than any other country besides Mexico.10 Do we have to admit all 120 million Mexicans to prove to the New York Times that we’re not “nativist”?
9. Anna Brown and Eileen Patten, “Hispanics of Mexican Origin in the United States,” Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project, 2011, http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/06/19/hispanics-of-mexican-origin-in-the-united-states-2011/. (“An estimated 33.5 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States in 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.”)
The Pew Research Center page linked does give the 33.5 million figure exactly as quoted. The population of mexico is around 120 million.

One problem is if we took in 33.5 million Mexicans, and there's 120 million in Mexico, then that's 153.5 million total, of which we have closer to a fifth (21.8%), not a quarter.

I think Coulter's point was to put 33.5 million Mexicans in context. It's over a quarter of the current population of Mexico! That's a lot! I read her comment more as a stylistic choice than strictly about math. And I don't think rounding 21.8% to 25% is very bad, it's in the right ballpark.

The one-quarter comment bothered Politifact, a group of partisan left-wingers who like to dress up their talking points as "facts". Their best counter was:
In reality, the immigration data from Pew is not nearly as neat and tidy as Coulter concludes. The Pew report attempted to count the number of people who trace their roots back to Mexico, not people who came directly from that country.

Why does that make such a difference?

Well, about two-thirds of Americans with Mexican ancestry were born in the United States. By definition, they were never part of Mexico’s population.

If they weren’t Mexican, they could not be "taken in."

The Pew definition is important, and if the numbers about Mexico don’t make it clear, let’s look at another country. We picked Ireland. In 2014, the Census Bureau said there were 34.1 million Americans with Irish roots. That’s nearly seven times Ireland’s current population.
That sounds like a pretty big error. But let's see what the Pew analysis actually says:
An estimated 33.5 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States in 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Mexicans in this statistical profile are people who self-identified as Hispanics of Mexican origin; this means either they themselves are Mexican immigrants or they trace their family ancestry to Mexico.
They were not looking for, or counting, anyone with any Mexican ancestry or roots like Politifact claims. They were only counting people who self-identified as "Hispanics of Mexican origin". Politifact is contradicting Pew's own statement about their data (hoping no one will notice) in order to try to make Coulter look bad.

Did Coulter use loose language and exaggerate here? Yes. (Was what Politifact said worse? Yes!) But so what? You're allowed to talk loosely at times. The one quarter comment was putting things in perspective, not trying to be a rigorous analysis. There's plenty of other material in Adios America which is more rigorous and factual, and is worded to indicate that.

I would like if Coulter was a little more careful at times, but I don't see any significant problem here. I don't think it would mislead a reader in general. There's a big problem and Coulter's saying there's a big problem, which is true.

Score: 90%.

Do Illegals Honestly Answer Government Surveys?

Another part of Politifact's article looked interesting to me. And I think picking issues to look at that her enemies bring up is a good method to try some. Coulter wrote:
Justich and Ng discounted the census data because it relied on illegal aliens answering surveys. As Justich told the Wall Street Journal, “The assumption that illegal people will fill out a census form is the most ridiculous concept I have ever heard of.”30 People who have left their families, paid huge sums of money to smugglers, trekked thousands of miles, and broken American law to enter this country don’t have much incentive to fill out questionnaires from the U.S. government.

The census tried to account for the reluctance of illegal aliens to answer government surveys by adding 10 percent to their population estimate. Guess where they got 10 percent? From another survey of illegals.
But Politifact says:
In a recent report, the center wrote "It is well established that illegal aliens do respond to government surveys such as the decennial census and the Current Population Survey."
Well, they did indeed write that contradiction to Coulter. But they didn't argue it. At all. Coulter's position makes sense. This is just a "center" asserting something:
It is well established that illegal aliens do respond to government surveys such as the decennial census and the Current Population Survey. While Census Bureau surveys do not ask the foreign-born if they are legal residents of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), former INS, the Pew Hispanic Center, and the Census Bureau have all used socio-demographic characteristics in the data to estimate the size of the illegal alien population. We follow this same approach.50
And does endnote 50 have an argument that illegals respond to government surveys? No.
To distinguish legal from illegal immigrants in the survey, this report uses citizenship status, year of arrival in the United States, age, country of birth, educational attainment, sex, receipt of welfare programs, receipt of Social Security, veteran status, and marital status. [...]
That endnote is on the topic of estimating things about the people who did fill out surveys, not on the topic of how they "established" that illegals are filling out surveys in the first place.

Rather than argue the issues, Politifact relied on judging statements by who said them:
The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors reduced immigration much as Coulter does, disagrees with that last point.
It's not that the Center for Immigration Studies had a good argument. Or any argument at all. Nor does Politifact have an argument. Instead, it's that the Center for Immigration Studies is asserted by Poltifact to be anti-immigration, and their point is basically "even the people who don't like immigration know Coulter is wrong". That's such an unscholarly approach that I wanted to point it out.

For the issue of Politifact attacking Coulter's argument that illegals don't fill out governement surveys, I'd say Politifact did a lot worse than just remaining silent. It showed their own flaws, not any mistake by Coulter.

Score: 100%.

How Dumb Is The Government?

That last claim Coulter made sounded interesting to me. Did the government really use a survey of illegals to try to find out whether (and at what rate) they answer surveys? Let's find out.
The census tried to account for the reluctance of illegal aliens to answer government surveys by adding 10 percent to their population estimate. Guess where they got 10 percent? From another survey of illegals. In 2001, the University of California asked Mexican-born residents of Los Angeles if they had taken the recent census. Ten percent said “no.” But almost 40 percent refused to take that survey.31
30. Carl Bialik, “In Counting Illegal Immigrants, Certain Assumptions Apply,” Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2010, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704370704575228432695989918.

31. Ibid.
The cited article says what Coulter claimed:
Researchers at CIS and Pew and in the federal government use a decades-old technique that looks at the number of foreign-born people in the U.S., as counted by annual census surveys. Then they subtract the number of foreign-born people in the U.S. legally, based on immigration records and projections of deaths and outmigration. The remainder is believed to be the number of illegal immigrants.

There are several assumptions that underlie these estimates, including the figures for outmigration, which isn't tracked by the U.S. government. The biggest problem, though, is that no one really knows what proportion of illegal immigrants respond to census interviewers and how honest they are about their place of birth.

These studies presume that about 10% of illegal immigrants aren't counted by census takers. But that figure largely is based on a 2001 University of California-funded survey of 829 people born in Mexico and living in Los Angeles, in which individuals were asked, among other things, whether they responded to census interviewers a year earlier. Representatives of nearly two in five households refused to answer that survey, and those who didn't might have been more likely to skip the census count as well.
But it's just a WSJ article with no cites or links. This is the internet! Why not link to the surveys you're talking about? :( He didn't even give the name of the study, the journal, or anyone involved with it, which makes it hard to search for.

Even if I find the 2001 study and everything checks out, how would I know that the other unspecified studies presuming the 10% figuring were basing it largely on the 2001 study? To figure this out properly would require a bunch of work. Coulter or Bialik should have done this work and shared it, but they haven't. Coulter, unfortunately, seems to have just dumped responsibility on Bialik's article which makes some big claims without giving the details.

I think Coulter's right about the issue here. For example the Bear Stearns Study says:
The Census Bureau’s counting process for the migrant population has some shortcomings. According to our discussions with illegal immigrants, they avoid responding to census questionnaires. For this reason, the official estimates do not fully capture this group.
and
According to Maxine Margolis, author of An Invisible Minority: Brazilians in New York City, the discrepancies started well over a decade ago. The 1990 census, for example, recorded only 9,200 Brazilians in New York City, while the local Brazilian consulate estimated 100,000 Brazilians at that time. The Brazilian foreign office placed the number at 230,000; Dr. Margolis also noted that comparisons of the Boston Archdiocese and Brazilian consulate records with U.S. census records show a startling 10 to 1 difference.
I didn't find a paper on the 2001 survey itself, but I found Immigrant Voting in Home Country Elections which has detailed information about it.
The July 2001 Los Angeles County Mexican Immigrant Legal Status Survey (LA-MILSS) is a random sample of 456 households in which at least one person was born in Mexico and 829 foreign-born Mexicans who resided in Los Angeles County in July 2001.
Looks like the survey happened in the right place with the right number of people.
household response rate of the LA-MILSS is 62 percent.
This 38% non-response rate fits with the claim that almost two in five households refused to answer. (Note: they already are ignoring outcomes like no one was home. This is people who were there and didn't answer the questions, so the word "refused" is accurate.)
Slightly less than half (46 percent) of adult respondents admitted to residing in the United States without being a naturalized citizen, a legal permanent resident or a temporary visitor.
That's a lot!
If we apply Marcelli and Ong’s (2002) estimated 10 percent undercount rate for all foreign-born Mexicans in the 2000 Census to these two point estimates, then the estimated number of expatriate Mexicans residing in the United States who will vote in the 2006 Mexican elections if the 1996 Mexican electoral reforms remain inoperative is 1.8 to 3.1 million.15
Guess what the footnote is. Think it'll provide details of the 10% undercount? Or maybe it'll give their calculations for the 1.8-3.1 million range? No, all it does is say the government used the 10% number.
15 This estimated undercount rate was employed in the recent U.S. INS report on unauthorized immigration in the United States (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 2003).
That's not useful. Although it does provide an example of the 10% figure being used, like the WSJ article claimed.

Here's another statement about the 10% undercount. It's in a paper that at least has a bunch of linked endnotes with citations written out:
During the 2000s, the two leading producers of estimates of the unauthorized foreign-born population, the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) and the Pew Hispanic Center (Pew), assumed that coverage error was, respectively, 10 (Hoefer, Rytina and Baker 2011
) and 13 percent (Passel and Cohn 2009) for the unauthorized foreign born, and about 2.5% for other foreign born. OIS rested its assumption about coverage error on a survey conducted in Los Angeles that was then compared to Census counts (Marcelli and Ong 2002). Pew based its assumption on the levels of enumeration error estimated for the 2000 Census, which were calculated by incorporating data from the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation (ACE) post-enumeration surveyviii
I looked for "2000 Census coverage of foreign-born Mexicans in Los Angeles County: Implications for demographic analysis" by Marcelli and Ong. Google scholar is aware it exists. But it's not available online. It isn't just behind a paywall. There's no copy of it available. They presented it at an IRL meeting, and people cite it, but there's I see no mention of it actually being published anywhere. Here is the meeting information and the paper information:
This paper employs the 2001 Los Angeles Mexican Immigrant Legal Status Survey (LA-MILSS) data to estimate the contribution of unauthorized and Legal Mexican immigrants to the Census undercount in Los Angeles County. After estimating the number of Mexican immigrants by legal status and whether each individual was enumerated in the 2000 Census, we examine various sources of omission. Logistic regression results suggest that individual demographic characteristics, social network quality, and neighborhood characteristics help explain variation in whether a person was counted.
And that's all the information we get. This makes it hardre to blame Bialik and Coulter for not providing more cites. These guys just publish a paragraph summary online and don't bother publishing their actual details. They share their ideas in person, apparently to be cited by other people who took notes while they were talking, I guess.

Finally, I see the government is using this, as claimed:

Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990 to 2000

Office of Policy and Planning
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service


...

About 12.6 million foreign-born persons who entered the United States from 1990 to 1999 were counted in the 2000 Census. The INS adjusted that number upward by about 850,000, primarily to account for estimated undercount in the census,4

4 The estimate of net census undercount of 10% for unauthorized residents is consistent with results reported in a paper by Enrico Marcelli, “2000 Census Coverage of Foreign-born Mexicans in Los Angeles County: Implications for Demographic Analysis,” presented at the 2000 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Atlanta, GA. For lawful residents, as defined here, the rate of net census undercount was set at one fourth of the rate for unauthorized residents, or 2.5 percent. [Bold in original for headings.]
Note the 850,000 adjustment the INS used is 6.7%, not 10%, even though their footnote says 10%.

OK now let's step back. Coulter said they asked people if they answered the census, and 10% said no. But I wasn't able to find that question from the survey and the results for it. Coulter's own citation should have led me to find that, since she makes that claim in her book. That's bad.

On the other hand, she's right about the big picture: the government and others are pretty much just making stuff up instead of being scholars with facts. The quality of the work Coulter's questioning is ridiculously low. She's right to draw attention to it. The theme of her book holds up. So again I'm going to deduct some points for a technical problem (I couldn't find some of the specifics she brought up her endnotes, even after doing quite a bit of research), but Coulter hasn't said anything that would mislead a reader about the state of the world. She isn't playing loose with facts to trick anyone about anything.

Score: 70%.

Adios America?

So, will illegal immigration destroy the country? Would amnesty mean Republicans never get elected again? Are these third-worlders assimilating, or not? Are we in danger? Is this a serious enough issue to really threaten our country? Could it be Adios America!?
According to a Washington Post poll, a majority of second-generation immigrants from Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, and the West Indies did not refer to themselves as “Americans” and said America was not the best country in the world.22
22. William Booth, “One Nation, Indivisible: Is It History?,” Washington Post, February 22, 1998, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/meltingpot/melt0222.htm.
The article says:
One study of the children of immigrants, conducted six years ago among young Haitians, Cubans, West Indians, Mexican and Vietnamese in South Florida and Southern California, suggests the parents are not alone in their concerns.

Asked by researchers Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbauthow how they identified themselves, most chose categories of hyphenated Americans. Few choose "American" as their identity.

Then there was this – asked if they believe the United States in the best country in the world, most of the youngsters answered: no.
Like Coulter said. But where's the details? They were harder to find because Ruben Rumbaut's name is mispelled :( I did find some paywalled stuff, but since I don't even know which one they are talking about, I didn't buy it.
when Obama won his 2012 reelection, Teixeira gloated that—as he had predicted—ethnic minorities were voting 8–2 for the Democrats, and had grown to nearly one-third of the electorate. “McGovern’s revenge only seems sweeter,” Teixeira said.19
19.Ruy Teixeira, “The Emerging Democratic Majority Turns 10,” Atlantic, November 10, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/the-emerging-democratic-majority-turns-10/265005/.
Teixeira's article says, as claimed:
Voters in 2012 were 28 percent minority, an increase of 2 percentage points from the 2008 level and a massive 13 percentage point increased from the 1988 level of 15 percent.
(28% is a little low to be calling nearly a third.)
Minority voters backed Obama 80 percent to 18 percent in 2008 -- and did exactly the same for the president this year. His support among African-Americans was almost as overwhelming (93-6) as it was in 2008 (95-4). And his support among Hispanics (71-27) improved substantially over its 2008 level (67-31). In addition, Obama achieved historic levels of support among Asian-Americans. This year he carried them 73-26, compared to 62-35 in 2008.
What about assimilation?
Everyone seems to agree that it is Minnesotans’ responsibility to assimilate to Somali culture, not the other way around.11 The Catholic University of St. Thomas has installed Islamic prayer rooms and footbaths in order to demonstrate, according to Dean of Students Karen Lange, that the school is “diverse.” Minneapolis’s mayor, Betsy Hodges, has shown up wearing a full hijab to meetings with Somalis. (In fairness, it was “Forbid Your Daughter to Work Outside the Home” Day.) A suburban Minnesota high school has “Welcome” signs written in Somali, a Somali student group, and articles in the school newspaper about how unhappy the Somalis are.
11. See, e.g., “Mayors Seek Closure of Troubling Gaps,” Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune, January 7, 2014. (“Changing people’s thinking about the value of every part of the city is essential to closing the income gap, achievement gap, health gap and all the other income- and race-based disparities that afflict the Twin Cities. . . . The arc of history has truly bent toward diversity and inclusivity.”)
The article indeed is a bunch of appeasement of unassimilated immigrants. It has an attitude that their problems are white people's fault, and American needs to change to make Somalis better off. For example:
The arc of history has truly bent toward diversity and inclusivity in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Whether history’s arc can also bend more nearly toward justice and opportunity for nonwhite, nonaffluent residents is an unanswered question. Making it so may be the greatest challenge these cities face if they are to remain prosperous in the 21st century.
If we do it right, we will begin to weave our city and our neighborhoods together fully, not merely in our conversations, but in our hearts and in our minds, as well. [...]” Hodges said.
Changing people’s thinking about the value of every part of the city is essential to closing the income gap, achievement gap, health gap and all the other income- and race-based disparities that afflict the Twin Cities. It will take vigorous use of the mayoral bully pulpit to spur that change. At that task, Coleman and Hodges have begun well.
The focus here is on Americans doing something, changing their thinking, looking at the world differently, etc, rather than on saying to the immigrants, "Hey guys, you came here. If you want to make more money and be more educated, then you change. Start acting like Americans and you'll get the same results we do without our city changing anything."

With immigrants not being assimilated and voting heavily for the Democrats, America is at genuine risk. But I wasn't satisfied with the details of the second generation immigrant cite. Again I'm not questioning the book's main themes, but I would have liked better research behind Coulter's factual details.

Score: 85%.

Conclusion

Coulter's average score is 87.5%. But you should try to understand what Adios America is like, not rely on a summary number. Please judge for yourself.

Here's what I think:

Despite all the endnotes, this doesn't appear to be a book of extremely careful fact checking and research. Coulter sometimes relies on sources like newspaper articles and repeats their claims without further checking. She makes some technical errors. But I didn't find a single instance where the message of her book was mistaken, which is what I'd say matters the most.

If you liked this, check out my previous Ann Coulter fact check, and my review of her critics' scholarship.

Thank you Justin Mallone for help finding some of the information.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Stefan Molyneux is a Dishonest Hack

The Truth About Ted Cruz by Stefan Molyneux is a hit video that throws everything it can against Ted Cruz while pretty much ignoring all his merits.

It purports to be a well-sourced factual takedown relying mostly on quotes. Molyneux made a website for it with a detailed table of contents and a long list of sources with links.

One of the issues, "Texas Values", discusses the Michael Wayne Haley court case. Here's what Molyneux says:



And he has two sources for this:

The Brutalism of Ted Cruz from The New York Times, a leftist propaganda rag that hates Cruz, and which can't be trusted after getting caught in so many lies. And, second, David Brooks’ (Slightly) Unfair Attack on Ted Cruz which basically agrees with the first article.

When I google for "cruz prosecute haley" (without quotes), the articles Molyneux used come up first and sixth. What Molyneux ignored is the second google hit:

David Brooks’ Dirty Hit On Ted Cruz: How Pundits Lose Credibility

Both articles Molyneux links are light on details. But this one is a detailed scholarly refutation of the position Molynex repeated straight from the New York Times. Why did Molyneux ignore it?

Molyneux is offensively dishonest because he pretends to be a scholar. He didn't just make a video attacking Cruz. He put together a big list of sources in order to lie to people that he'd done a bunch of proper research. He hadn't. He just looked for one-sided ways to smear Cruz no matter how false they were. There's no excuse for missing the second google hit on the topic. (Which also comes up on the first page of google results for a variety of other search terms I tried.)

I also dislike the sneaky claim that Cruz was "just following orders". That is not something Cruz said, nor is it what the Cruz defender I linked at Ethics Alarms said. It's just Molyneux dishonestly trying to call Rob Garver a Cruz defender (the guy from his second source who wrote, "Yet it’s hard to argue with many of [Brooks'] conclusions."). Molyneux is pretending to give both sides of the issue, but he just attacks Cruz twice and attributes one of the attacks to Cruz defenders, while ignoring Cruz's actual defenders.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Ann Coulter's Bad Scholarship

Ann Coulter tweeted:

Professor whose statistical model predicted every election since 1912: Odds Of President Trump Range Btwn 97% & 99%-http://bit.ly/1p63RMW

After my previous positive reviews of her book scholarship, I wanted to highlight how atrocious this is. Let's look over the article:

Political Science Professor: Odds Of President Trump Range BETWEEN 97% AND 99%

The model has been correct for every election since 1912 except for the 1960 election

Ann said "every election". Did she even read the article? What a travesty.

Specifically, Norpoth predicts that Trump has a 97 percent chance of beating Hillary Clinton and a 99 percent chance of beating Bernie Sanders.

The predictions assume Trump will actually become the 2016 presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

So it doesn't predict either primary. It only predicts Trump is 97-99% to become president if you throw in the big assumption that he's literally 100% likely to win the Republican primary.

So that's two major factual errors in Ann's tweet.

Besides getting the basic facts wrong, twice, there's also the issue that the article and prediction model are utter crap.

“When I started out with this kind of display a few months ago, I thought it was sort of a joke,” the professor told the alumni audience

You know what would have been impressive? If the prediction model was published in 1911.

Instead it was worked out a few months ago and has never actually predicted anything? It's really easy to "predict" past data. It's called back-fitting and it's well known. Making a formula to fit past data is completely different than making successful predictions about the future.

(That it was back-fitting, not prediction, was predictable to me before I even clicked the article. Ann should have known better even if she literally didn't read a single word of the article.)

Norpoth, a 1974 University of Michigan Ph.D. recipient who specializes in electoral behavior alignment, said his crystal ball also shows a 61-percent chance that the Republican nominee — Trump or not — will win the 2016 presidential election.

Wait what? This is pretty incoherent. These numbers do not make sense. For this math to add up – around 98% chance for Trump to win if he's the nominee, and 61% chance for any Republican to win – requires Trump to have only around a 60% chance to be the nominee (if the other Republican candidates are somehow all around 0% likely to win the general election) or less.

I also checked out the Daily Caller's source:

Political science professor forecasts Trump as general election winner

“You think ‘This is crazy. How can anything come up with something like that?’ ” Norpoth said “But that’s exactly the kind of equation I used to predict Bill Clinton winning in ‘96, that I used to predict that George Bush would win in 2004, and, as you remember four years ago, that Obama would win in 2012.”

Note the wording, "the kind of equation". So he made up a new equation just now. He's made up other equations in the past. He keeps changing them each time, rather than re-using an equation that's ever predicted anything.

In contrast, Norpoth forecasted that a hypothetical presidential race with Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio on the Republican ticket would be a much closer race. The results showed Clinton with a 55 percent chance of winning the race against Cruz or Rubio with a 0.3 percent lead in the popular vote.

So Trump needs to have a very low chance to win the GOP primary for the math to work out. Meanwhile the prediction model saying he'll win the general election is based on him doing so well in the primaries! This is all a bunch of contradictory nonsense.


And Ann Coulter is promoting this utter nonsense on Twitter while making factual errors. This fits her recent pattern of saying anything – even stupid and dishonest things – that are on Trump's side. :(


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Reddit Censorship

I tried to participate in a reddit AMA ("ask me anything") for Ann Coulter. I was immediately banned:



That's everything I said. Then:



A few minutes later the moderators changed their mind and made it a permanent ban because, apparently, I'm a "moron". (I had said nothing further.) What's moronic about doing fact checking and research regarding Ann's writing? I found a clear error in Adios America which should be fixed. Instead I get banned:


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (10)

Never Trust Ari Armstrong

Ari Armstrong caught my attention because he's a writer who purports to be an Objectivist. But he's got serious quality problems – I caught him making false statements about what the Bible says. Worse, he provided source links to the passages that contradict him. That gives a false impression that he'd checked his claims properly (similar to adding footnotes to a dishonest book to make it look scholarly).

Recently he's done worse:

The article title, "Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz", encourages the destruction of America. What's he so bothered by?

In early November, Cruz, along with Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal, spoke at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa. At that event, host Kevin Swanson openly called for the death penalty for homosexuals—albeit only after they’ve had a chance to “repent.” Another speaker at the conference distributed literature advocating the death penalty for homosexuals.

Right Wing Watch is a very biased, untrustworthy site. Nevertheless in this case they had more integrity than Ari Armstrong. Armstrong is misreporting events. His own source says:

In a closing keynote address to the conference this evening, Swanson clarified that he is not encouraging American officials to implement the death penalty for homosexuality … yet.

That's not openly calling for the death penalty for homosexuals. Let's compare. Armstrong:

Swanson openly called for the death penalty for homosexuals

And Armstrong's source:

he is not encouraging American officials to implement the death penalty for homosexuality … yet.

Armstrong is dishonest.

Thanks to Justin Mallone for helping check this.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fake Burke Quote Attacking Godwin

I found a quote of Edmund Burke trashing William Godwin:

'Pure defecated Atheism', said Burke [of Godwin], 'the brood of that putrid carcase the French Revolution.'

I was especially interested because I'd been unable to find any other direct quote of Burke saying negative things about Godwin. People claim Burke disliked Godwin, but I have my doubts and have searched for the evidence that those people never provide.

So I tracked down the citations, and ultimately the quote is unsourced. While doing that, I found another quote of Burke trashing Godwin which also turned out to be unsourced.

I also contacted an academic expert who agreed the quote is fake.

Here's what I looked up:

The defecated atheism quote is from Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin by D. H. Monro.

I originally found it in a different Godwin paper which didn't even try to source it.

Monro says it's quoted from Ford K. Brown, Life of William Godwin (London, 1926), p 155

So I got that book. It has the quote along with a footnote. The footnote states:

Edmund Burke, who is also said to have called Godwin "one of the ablest architects of ruin." (Gilfillan's Literary Portraits (First Series, Edinb. 1845), p.16.)

I found the Literary Portraits book. On page 16 it has the architect of ruin quote, unsourced. It doesn't have the defecated atheism quote at all.

It's no good to source a quote to a secondary source without following the citations back to an adequate source. That spreads myths.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Steven Crowder Fake Quote

MYTH: "Well Regulated Militia" Only? (Second Amendment History) is a video by Steven Crowder. It has quotes from America's founding fathers to argue for his pro-gun-rights position (which I agree with). Crowder put up a webpage with his references which he links in the YouTube video description. The first quote on the page is:

“I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” – George Mason

Crowder's source link is a category at a blog (not even a specific post). The relevant blog post says:

.
I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

George Mason, Speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788

~ ~ Grouchy ~ ~

Great, we have a source. It's from a speech at a particular convention in a particular year. It's easy to find a short transcript of the speech (second version) online which doesn't have this quote. I wanted to know where the quote was coming from, and if it was perhaps from another statement not included in those sources. I looked further and found the full book covering the convention. It doesn't contain the quote. So, I'm confident the quote is a fraud.

I didn't check the other quotes Crowder used. This is one fake quote out of just one quote checked.

The full book does have some similar statements from Mason (my emphasis):

I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day.

and

An instance within the memory of some of this house will show us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man,* who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia. [Here Mr. Mason quoted sundry passages to this effect.] This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed?

The fake quote is similar to two real quotes from the speech, but each part is changed. And, in the book, the two parts appear thousands of words apart, and in reverse order. So the fake quote is roughly representative of what Mason was saying, but it's not actually a quote.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Matt Levine Thinks Badly About Incentives and Economics

Matt Levine writes (bold added, links omitted):

AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner is a vertical merger: AT&T mostly owns pipes (DirectTV, cellular networks) that bring content to consumers, while Time Warner mostly owns studios (Time Warner) and networks (HBO, the Turner networks) that produce and package that content. By combining the two, they can achieve some efficiency benefits that should work to lower prices for consumers. For instance, by combining AT&T’s data on its wireless customers with Time Warner’s advertising inventory, they can introduce more targeted ads, which “will lead to higher ad revenues that will alleviate pressure on the programing side and lower the price of video distribution to consumers,” according to Judge Leon’s opinion. In modern antitrust law, more targeted advertising is a consumer benefit. There are those who think that modern antitrust law is bad.

Against these benefits, the government argued that the combined company would have so much market power that it would actually be able to raise prices. This is an unusual argument in a vertical merger—and vertical mergers are rarely challenged—because the merger won’t make AT&T any bigger in any of the businesses it (or Time Warner) is already in. Instead, the government’s theory is that AT&T can use its Time Warner content to bully competing distributors (other cable companies, video-on-demand companies, etc.). Right now, Time Warner makes its money by signing big high-stakes deals with content distributors who want to carry its content. If they don’t reach a deal, then everyone loses: Time Warner doesn’t get paid, and the distributor’s customers get mad that they can’t watch HBO and start thinking about switching cable companies. And so in practice they generally work out a deal; long-term blackouts are very rare.

But once AT&T owns Time Warner, the government argued, its incentives will shift: If it fails to reach a deal with Comcast or whoever, then it still won’t get paid for Time Warner’s content, and Comcast’s subscribers will still get mad and think about switching providers, but now they might switch to AT&T. (To DirecTV, or to some AT&T wireless video product, etc.) Blacking out Time Warner’s networks on a competing distributor will now be good for AT&T’s distribution business, which will give Time Warner more leverage to demand higher prices for its content in those negotiations with distributors. Or that is the government’s theory, which it argued based on some intemperate public statements from AT&T, some worries from its competitors, and the expert testimony of antitrust economist Carl Shapiro.

Judge Leon didn’t buy it. He noted that an AT&T expert witness looked at previous content/distribution vertical mergers and found that “There’s absolutely no statistical basis to support the government’s claim that vertical integration in this industry leads to higher content prices.” And he noted that, even after the merger, it will be in AT&T/Time Warner’s interest to distribute Time Warner’s content as broadly as possible, so it won’t really have that much leverage to demand higher prices:

Indeed the evidence showed that there has never been, and is likely never going to be, an actual long-term blackout of Turner content. Numerous witnesses explained, and Professor Shapiro acknowledged, that a long-term blackout of Turner content, even post-merger, would cause Turner to lose more in affiliate fee and advertising revenues than the merged entity would gain. Given that, there is insufficient evidentiary basis to support Professor Shapiro’s contention that a post-merger Turner would, or even could, drive up prices by threatening distributors with long-term blackouts.

The discussion gets into some odd theory-of-the-firm moments. Several of AT&T’s witnesses were people who had negotiated these content deals at other vertically integrated cable/content companies: “Madison Bond, who has served as a lead negotiator for NBCU during the past seven years when the company has been vertically integrated with Comcast,” for instance, and several Time Warner executives who “testified similarly about their time at the company when it was vertically integrated with Time Warner Cable.” All of these witnesses said the same thing: They never used their ownership by a distributor as leverage in negotiation with other distributors.

When questioned by defense counsel about his prior negotiations on behalf of NBCU, Bond testified that he “never once took into account the interest of Comcast cable in trying to negotiate a carriage agreement.” Consideration of potential Comcast gains during an NBCU blackout “doesn’t factor at all” into his negotations, Bond continued, nor has anyone from Comcast “ever asked” him “to think about that.” Bond’s statements were similar to testimony given by Comcast’s chief negotiator, Greg Rigdon, who testified that he has never suggested, or seen a Comcast document suggesting, that NBC “should go dark on one of [Comcast’s] competitors because then [Comcast] might pick up some subscribers” or that NBCU should “hold out for a little bit more in affiliate fees because that will harm” Comcast’s competitors.

(Citations omitted.) Similarly, a Turner executive said, “I’ve been in Turner when we were a vertically integrated company and had a sister company called Time Warner Cable. And I can tell you that at no time during my tenure there did anyone ask me to consider in my negotiations and how I dealt with other distributors the outcome and impact at Time Warner Cable.”

So basically everyone with experience of negotiating these deals, who had the leverage that the government claims AT&T/Time Warner will have, said: Nah, it never even occurred to us to do that. But the government’s economist testified that of course they would have that leverage and use it. “Indeed, this opinion by Professor Shapiro runs contrary to all of the real-world testimony during the trial from those who have actually negotiated on behalf of vertically integrated companies,” wrote Judge Leon. So he asked Shapiro about it, and got this fun answer:

No, I am aware of that testimony. And so I think there’s a very serious tension between that testimony and the working assumption for antitrust economists that Professor Carlton and I share; that the company after the merger will be run to maximize their joint profits.

Isn’t that sort of lovely? An economist testified about how companies should operate. Actual operators testified about how the companies do operate. The answers were different. “There's a very serious tension,” said the economist. It is really all you could ask for in an antitrust trial: An economic theory of corporate behavior was proposed, it was confronted with the practical reality of the people actually doing the corporate behavior, and the economic theory shrugged and melted away.

Judge Leon is surely right that the tension isn’t as serious as Shapiro thinks:

That profit-maximization premise is not inconsistent, however, with the witness testimony that the identity of a programmer’s owner has not affected affiliate negotiations in real-world instances of vertical integration. Rather, as those witnesses indicated, vertically integrated corporations have previously determined that the best way to increase company wide profits is for the programming and distribution components to separately maximize their respective revenues. … In the case of programmers, that means pursuing deals “to be on all the platforms,” rather than undertaking a “series of risks” to threaten a long-term blackout.

Part of how you combine different businesses is by getting them to work together: If Time Warner is good at selling ads, and AT&T is good at mining customer data, then you smush them together so that AT&T/Time Warner will be good at selling ads based on customer data-mining, which is where the money is. But part of how you combine different businesses is by leaving them to work separately: If Time Warner’s business model is selling programming to every distributor, then changing that model so that it only sells to AT&T, just because AT&T bought it, would be a mistake. Which is which—when you should combine businesses, and when you should leave them to make their own profit-maximizing decisions—is a complicated question, and you can certainly try to answer it with game theory and economic modeling. But sometimes you can just ask companies what they actually do! It is not perfect evidence of what they should do. But it’s pretty good evidence of what they will do.

I've read lots of Money Stuff columns. I often like them. This is the worst one I've seen. People lie. People fail to introspect, especially when the results would be inconvenient.

Of course merged companies work to make an overall profit for the new, single company. Not perfectly, but there's major incentives in companies to make a profit, and these incentives do play a major role in behavior. Sure it happens that sometimes the right hand of the company doesn't talk to the left hand, and they consequently fail to maximize profits. And sure it happens that sometimes the amount of profit available from a particular optimization is too small for the coordination effort required to get it. And sure it happens that people fail to notice opportunities. None of those mean economic theory is wrong.

Why is Levine so naively credulous of some people saying things in court that they have a strong incentive to say? AT&T wouldn't have brought in someone to testify if they were going to say something else that hurt AT&T... And people saying something else would be at risk of getting themselves fired, and maybe other bad things, because they'd basically be saying they personally, and their company, was doing bad stuff that there are various laws against (anti-trust if nothing else – yes anti-trust law is extremely vague, but this seems like the kinda stuff people think that violates it, which is exactly why it was a topic of discussion in this anti-trust case).

Also the witnesses said they didn't go up to Comcast, or whoever, and say "yo, give us lots of money or we'll do a blackout cuz we don't give a damn cuz we own DirectTV" or an equivalent of that. Choosing not to use it as an aggressive talking point, and saying with full clarity what one means, is perfectly compatible with negotiating harder due to the incentives that exist. The testimony also uses careful language, e.g. a person says he didn't suggest doing it, and didn't read any documents suggesting he do it. Another guy says he wasn't asked to take something into account. There's a comment about going dark, which is different thing than using it as a background possibility to negotiate a better deal (which is what they always do, all the time, obviously – of course, if they aren't paid enough money, they will go dark, and everyone on both sides knows it).

Why doesn't Levine consider the incentives people have, and just believes them when they say they act contrary to financial incentives?

And the mathy arguments used are nonsense. Blackouts are too expensive to threaten? Umm, not exactly. Blackouts are always an implied threat in negotiations. If you don't pay us, we will not let you air our shows. Duh. After the merger, the overall cost of a blackout will be smaller for the new merged company than it was for the old company (because e.g. the blackout it benefits DirecTV, which makes up for a portion of the downside).

If no deal is $100 less bad for you than before, you negotiate harder than before and you maybe get a $50 better deal. Even if the deal is worth a million dollars, this is still true, though in that case it'd be too small a factor to worry about. But the argument wasn't "we calculated how big a factor this is, and it's too small to matter much". They didn't figure out what size factor it is. They just denied it's a factor. That's stupid and incompetent, and Levine ought to have noticed if he were competent.

Similarly, the arguments about the benefits of letting different divisions of a company operate independently effect the degree of the issue. Maybe those benefits are larger than the ability of the merged company to negotiate harder and raise prices for TV content. Maybe a lot larger, so the merged company will only pursue the much larger benefit and not concern itself with the smaller benefit that isn't fully compatible with the larger benefit. But Levine doesn't treat it like competing factors and compare their size. He uses one to try to dismiss and ignore the other. That's nonsense. Nor does Levine consider what potential future changes to the company (e.g. some reorganization, selling some other divisions off and getting smaller, whatever) might change the calculations and therefore result in the price raising behavior being economically efficient.

Also, when deciding to believe the businessmen who said "oh no, we would never act according to financial incentives – in fact, we don't even know those financial incentives exist", Levine ignored that there were also public statements by AT&T that admitted it (at least Levine himself said those statements exist, but he didn't quote any or give a source).

Is it true that the best way to maximize profits for a company is for individual divisions to maximize profits? No. You might run your company that way because doing things more optimally is too hard. But that's not the theoretical best way.

And no, Levine, no one said anything about changing the model to only sell the TV shows to AT&T. That's an especially dishonest thing to write.

To be clear: anti-trust laws are evil (which is another thing Levine is clueless about). I'm not saying that mergers should be blocked because prices for some things would be raised, nor am I claiming they actually will be raised. I'm just analyzing the quality of the arguments and thinking presented by Levine, and the big mistakes in the article are on the pro-merger side.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Bad Sam Harris Brain Scanning Research Paper

This post criticizes The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief by Sam Harris , Jonas T. Kaplan , Ashley Curiel, Susan Y. Bookheimer, Marco Iacoboni, Mark S. Cohen in 2009. I wrote this as a reply on the Change My View subreddit, and made minor edits so it'd stand alone.

Once we had two groups of subjects (Christians and Nonbelievers)

Specific criteria used are not given, making this research non-reproducible. This especially concerns me because such criteria are controversial and I would expect to disagree with the study authors about some categorizations regarding which persons think about which topics in religious ways (I don't think that religious thinking is all or nothing).

Later, they admit the screening criteria were poor, and make excuses. They later admit, "the failure of our brief screening procedure to accurately assess a person's religious beliefs".

To this end we assessed subjects' general intelligence using the Weschler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI)

It's spelled "Wechsler".

IQ tests have many problems. Here is a previous discussion where I pointed out some of the problems. http://curi.us/2056-iq

screened for psychopathology using the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS)

Their non-random screening, including this, dropped 44% of people. That's getting far from a representative sample of the population! And those are only of the people who met the first 5 criteria that already included two related to psychiatric issues.

There are lots of problems with psychiatric screenings. I'm not going to go into it in detail here, but see these books criticizing psychiatry: http://fallibleideas.com/books#szasz

Forty of these participated in the fMRI portion of our study, but ten were later dropped, and their data excluded from subsequent analysis, due to technical difficulties with their scans (2 subjects), or to achieve a gender balance between the two groups (1 subject), or because their responses to our experimental stimuli indicated that they did not actually meet the criteria for inclusion in our study as either nonbelievers or committed Christians (7 subjects).

Dropping those 7 people is a big problem. They were removed because their data didn't fit the expected answer patterns. IMO that should have been a learning opportunity to reconsider mistaken expectations.


Here are example stimuli from the experiment. I didn't read them all, but it looked to me like over half the groups of 4 stimuli had a flaw. Also there's a systematic bias: the Christian truths are more often non-hedged statements, while the atheists truths are more often hedged. E.g. in 19 you read "The Bible" in the Christian one and "Most of the Bible" in the atheist one, and 29 has Jesus either "literally" rising from the dead or "probably" not rising from the dead.

The Bible is free from error.

This is categorized as something that all the Christian participants should consider true. But many serious Christians do not believe this.

The Bible is free from significant error.

It's weird that they have two very similar questions.

All books provided perfectly accurate accounts of history.

Grammar error.

The Bible is full of fictional stories and contains historical errors.

This is categorized as something that all the Christian participants should consider false. But many serious Christians do believe this.

People who believe in the biblical God often do so on very good evidence.

This is categorized as something that all the Christian participants should consider true. But many serious Christians do not believe this.

It reasonable to believe in an omniscient God.

Grammar error.

Jesus Christ can’t do anything to help humanity in the 21st century.

This is supposed to be considered true by non-believers, but many non-believers (including me) consider this statement false. (Though it's vague: do they mean Jesus Christ literally and personally can help people today, or his teachings can help? I'd change my answer depending on that. It's his teachings that I think can do "anything" (more than zero) to help.)

In general, they shouldn't have used words like "anything", "all", most", "greatest" because people routinely misread those statements (misreading e.g. "all" as "most", or vice versa). And those kind of statements are so often written incorrectly and carelessly that readers, reasonably, don't expect reliable, literal precision from them.

Jesus was literally born of a virgin.

Lots of Christians don't believe this – possibly because they are more educated about their religion (not less). "Virgin" (in the sense of not having sex) is a mistranslation – he was born of a young women (which, btw, is a typical meaning of "virgin" in English).

The Biblical story of creation is basically true.

Tons of Christians aren't young Earth creationists.

Most of the Bible is inferior to modern thinking on morality and human happiness.

This is supposed to be considered true by atheists, but as an atheist I consider it vague (which modern thinking?). If I try to read it using guesses about what the author of the statement meant, I think I disagree with it. Also if I read it with a "most" before "modern thinking", then I'd judge it false.

The Biblical story of creation is purely a myth.

This is supposed to be an atheist truth, but as an atheist I consider it false (due to "purely", which I mentioned above is the kind of word they shouldn't have used because people vary in how literally they read it). It's also problematic because I think many atheists aren't adequately familiar with the Biblical story of creation.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is almost surely fictional.

Many atheists couldn't say what what the Trinity doctrine is. And many atheists, including me, would disagree with this due to the "almost surely fictional". I consider it fictional and would not want to hedge in that way. If the words "almost surely" were deleted then I'd agree with the statement, but I'm not comfortable with this statement as written. There were lots of statements that were supposed to be things I would agree with, but which included hedges I don't believe.

Human beings have complete control over the environment and can grow food anywhere.

This is vague. They consider it false. But we can grow food in airplanes, submarines or spaceships. Where, exactly, can't we grow food? In the middle of active volcanos? In the middle of the sun? Did they expect me to worry about suns or black holes because of taking "anywhere" literally?

The greatest human accomplishments have had nothing to do with God.

This is one of the worst ones. This is meant to be considered true by atheists. But, historically, most human accomplishments (great and small) were accomplished by religious people who often did think God was relevant (or the gods in the case of polytheists like many Greeks). Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Isaac_Newton

It is wise to create a government that can help protect its citizens from harm.

I'm confused about why this is meant to be false for everyone. Most people agree with this, right?

Also, for 54 and 55 they accidentally swapped the Christian and Atheist truths. Since they have things categorized incorrectly and make grammar and spelling errors in what they published, I'm concerned that these 4 statements were miscategorized in the actual study.


I could go on and on. There are tons of stimuli with these kinds of problems. This is not up to the high standards required for scientific progress. And they actually excluded 7 people for not answering the questions reliably enough (over 90%) in the way the study authors expected them to answer based on the poor phone screening. And, overall, it looked to me like a lot of highly religious Christians would agree with well under 90% of the Christian truth stimuli, so I think the experimental design is bad. The researchers seem to think that e.g. if you believe in evolution you aren't a serious, religious Christian, which is incorrect. Note they failed at their own design goal that:

All statements were designed to be judged easily as “true” or “false”

Anyway, I'm not even trying to be comprehensive with the issues. There are just a lot of issues. And cites to a ton more issues, e.g. I could go through "The role of the extrapersonal brain systems in religious activity" and point out flaws with that (it's the cite on some text I particularly disagreed with). For now, I'll continue with some comments on the brain scanning aspect since I didn't get to that yet.

For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex

This is like measuring magnitudes of electric signals in different regions of CPUs while running different software. That would be a bad way to understand CPUs or software.

Actually, overall, the brain scanning stuff is hard to criticize due to the lack of substantial claims. They need to conclude something significant for me to point out how the evidence is inadequate for the conclusion. But they didn't. Big picture, the paper says more like "We did something and here's the data we got" which is true as far as it goes. They were looking for correlations and found a couple. Finding correlations is quite different than understanding and making claims about how people think. The world is packed full of non-causal correlations. Due to the lack of major claims about the brain scan correlations meaning anything, I'm done. It has quality issues and doesn't reach important conclusions.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Rothbard's Bad Scholarship on Godwin and Popper

I know some bad things about Murray Rothbard (like his view that abortion is justified by the property rights of the mother against a trespasser, his belief that children are property and that parents are not obligated to feed their children, his attack on Objectivism, and his anti-semitism). But I've seen some merit in his work on economics, and I've begun reading his book An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. I mostly like it so far, but one must be careful not to trust everything. A particularly interesting part, to me, was the discussion of Aristotle, which I thought was good. It was a lot like what Objectivists say about Aristotle. I don't know how much this is because of Rothbard's knowledge of Objectivism, and how much it's a standard non-Objectivist view. Reading about Aristotle on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Wikipedia is rather different than the Objectivist or Rothbardian interpretation. I tried to google for material on Aristotle similar to the Objectivist view, and found this page ... but I checked and the authors are Objectivists.

Here are some new Rothbard errors I've discovered (italics in quotes are added by me, unless noted):

The continual progress, onward-and-upward approach was demolished for me, and should have been for everyone, by Thomas Kuhn's famed Structure of Scientific Revolutions.[5] [italics in original]

See the replies to Kuhn by Karl Popper and by David Deutsch. (Deutsch's writing on this subject is more accessible and more general, so it's what I'd recommend first if you're interested.)

Related to Kuhn (a critic of Popper) is Rothbard's completely false hostility to Popper in The Present State of Austrian Economics:

For my purposes, I am ignoring the allegedly wide gulf between the earlier positivists with their “verifiability” criterion and the Popperites and their emphasis on “falsifiability.” For those far outside the logical empiricist camp, this dispute has more of the appearance of a family feud than of a fundamental split in epistemology. The only point of interest here is that the Popperites are more nihilistic and therefore even less satisfactory than the original positivists, who at least are allowed to “verify” rather than merely “not falsify.”

Popper is not a positivist, nor similar to one. This is totally ignorant, yet he writes about it professionally (rather than being aware of his ignorance and leaving this matter to others).

Going back to An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, I searched it for discussion of Godwin and Burke, who are thinkers where I could readily judge the quality of Rothbard's work, offhand, from my own expertise. Burke isn't mentioned at all, which is an error in a detailed book which gives attention to many lesser known figures. (Burke is fairly well known in general, but not for his comments on economics, even though he made many of them.) Rothbard did very extensive research for this book, but somehow omitted Burke. An example of Burke's relevance, from an 1800 biography of Burke, which has been quoted in many more recent books:

[Adam] Smith, [Burke] said, told him, after they had conversed on subjects of political economy, that he was the only man, who, without communication, thought on these topics exactly as he did.

Adam Smith is a major focus of Rothbard's attention, so Burke was worth discussing at least a little.

Rothbard's treatment of Godwin was much worse. He brings up Godwin briefly in relation to Malthus and makes egregious errors:

In his Utopian belief in the perfectibility of man

The "perfectibility" of man is not a Utopian belief, it means that man can be improved without limit (without reaching an end to progress), not that man can or will reach perfection. The improvement includes both improvement of ideas and of technology. This is a major theme of Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity, which is titled for this theme and includes Godwin in the bibliography.

William Godwin, on the other hand, was the world's first anarcho-communist, or rather, voluntary anarcho-communist. For Godwin, while a bitter critic of the coercive state, was an equally hostile critic of private property.

That's just not what Godwin says in his material on property in Political Justice.

Godwin believed, not that private property should be expropriated by force, but that individuals, fully using their reason, should voluntarily and altruistically divest themselves of all private property to any passer-by.

Rothbard doesn't provide any quote or citation for this false claim. I will, nevertheless, offer some quotes from Political Justice to refute it, from book 8 (of 8), Of Property.

Of property there are three degrees.

The first and simplest degree is that of my permanent right in those things the use of which being attributed to me, a greater sum of benefit or pleasure will result than could have arisen from their being otherwise appropriated. It is of no consequence, in this case, how I came into possession of them, the only necessary conditions being their superior usefulness to me, and that my title to them is such as is generally acquiesced in by the community in which I live. Every man is unjust who conducts himself in such a manner respecting these things as to infringe, in any degree, upon my power of using them, at the time when the using them will be of real importance to me.

It has already appeared[1] that one of the most essential of the rights of man is my right to the forbearance of others; not merely that they shall refrain from every thing that may, by direct consequence, affect my life, or the possession of my powers, but that they shall refrain from usurping upon my understanding, and shall leave me a certain equal sphere for the exercise of my private judgement. This is necessary because it is possible for them to be wrong, as well as for me to be so, because the exercise of the understanding is essential to the improvement of man, and because the pain and interruption I suffer are as real, when they infringe, in my conception only, upon what is of importance to me, as if the infringement had been, in the utmost degree, palpable. Hence it follows that no man may, in ordinary cases, make use of my apartment, furniture or garments, or of my food, in the way of barter or loan, without having first obtained my consent.

The second degree of property is the empire to which every man is entitled over the produce of his own industry, even that part of it the use of which ought not to be appropriated to himself.

Godwin didn't think people should give away their property to random people, he thought they should have property rights but sometimes, due to rational argument, give some property, as a gift, to someone who had a better use for it. I think trade should be emphasized over gifts and that Godwin wasn't a great economist, but Godwin did support private property and the free market, and was an individualist.

It is not easy to say whether misery or absurdity would be most conspicuous in a plan which should invite every man to seize upon everything he conceived himself to want.... We have already shown,[3] and shall have occasion to show more at large,[4] how pernicious the consequences would be if government were to take the whole permanently into their hands, and dispense to every man his daily bread.

Note the anti-communism.

The idea of property, or permanent empire, in those things which ought to be applied to our personal use, and still more in the produce of our industry, unavoidably suggests the idea of some species of law or practice by which it is guaranteed. Without this, property could not exist. Yet we have endeavoured to show that the maintenance of these two kinds of property is highly beneficial.

Godwin supports the protection of property.

For, let it be observed that, not only no well informed community will interfere with the quantity of any man's industry, or the disposal of its produce, but the members of every such well informed community will exert themselves to turn aside the purpose of any man who shall be inclined, to dictate to, or restrain, his neighbour in this respect.

No one should interfere with anyone's property rights, and people who try to should be stopped.

The most destructive of all excesses is that where one man shall dictate to another, or undertake to compel him to do, or refrain from doing, anything (except, as was before stated, in cases of the most indispensable urgency) otherwise than with his own consent. Hence it follows that the distribution of wealth in every community must be left to depend upon the sentiments of the individuals of that community.

What more does Rothbard want from property rights than that men use their minds in order to use their property in the way they see fit? If Godwin had his way, the result would be a capitalist dream, not a communist society.

But, if reason prove insufficient for this fundamental purpose, other means must doubtless be employed.[9] It is better that one man should suffer than that the community should be destroyed. General security is one of those indispensable preliminaries without which nothing, good or excellent can be accomplished. It is therefore right that property, with all its inequalities, such as it is sanctioned by the general sense of the members of any state, and so long as that sanction continues unvaried should be defended, if need be, by means of coercion.

Godwin, an early anarchist of sorts, who hated violence, was still willing to recommend that the government use violence in defense of property rights, even for unjust types of property that were in existence at the time (think of feudalism and serfdom kinda stuff), let alone for property rights to the product of one's industry.

The arguments however that may be offered, in favour of the protection given to inheritance and testamentary bequest, are more forcible than might at first be imagined.

Godwin defends inheritance of property, too.

The first idea of property then is a deduction from the right of private judgement; the first object of government is the preservation of this right. Without permitting to every man, to a considerable degree, the exercise of his own discretion, there can be no independence, no improvement, no virtue and no happiness. This is a privilege in the highest degree sacred; for its maintenance, no exertions and sacrifices can be too great. Thus deep is the foundation of the doctrine of property. It is, in the last resort, the palladium of all that ought to be dear to us, and must never be approached but with awe and veneration.

The view of property as being implied from the right of private judgment is the best and most correct view of the matter. Godwin is a great liberal thinker, who Rothbard doesn't appreciate. Godwin is, in this respect, more (classical) liberal than Rothbard, and closer to Objectivism which also emphasizes reason in its defense of man's rights. (Objectivism says men have one fundamental right, the right to life, and this implies "the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being". Property rights are the implementation of this.)

And let me repeat what that last sentence says, in more modern words (palladium means source of protection, safety or preservation): Property rights should always be approached with awe and veneration, because property rights are what protect everything good. Rothbard majorly failed at scholarship.

[Godwin] was, after all, not a scholar of population theory, and he had no immediately effective reply. It took Godwin all of two decades to study the problem thoroughly and come to an effective refutation of his nemesis. In On Population (1820), Godwin came to the cogent and sensible conclusion that population growth is not a bogey, because over the decades the food supply would increase and the birth rate would fall. Science and technology, along with rational limitation of birth, would solve the problem. ["On Population" is in italics in the original]

This falsehood about Godwin needing 20 years to figure out a reply to Malthus is refuted in Godwin's book, Of Population (Rothbard got the title wrong), in the preface:

I believed, that the Essay on Population, like other erroneous and exaggerated representations of things, would soon find its own level.

In this I have been hitherto disappointed. ... Finding therefore, that whatever arguments have been produced against it by others, it still holds on its prosperous career, and has not long since appeared in the impressive array of a Fifth Edition, I cannot be contented to go out of the world, without attempting to put into a permanent form what has occurred to me on the subject. I was sometimes idle enough to suppose, that I had done my part, in producing the book that had given occasion to Mr. Malthus's Essay, and that I might safely leave the comparatively easy task, as it seemed, of demolishing the "Principle of Population," to some one of the men who have risen to maturity since I produced my most considerable performance. But I can refrain no longer. "I will also answer my part; I likewise will shew my opinion: for I am full of matter; and the spirit within me constraineth me."

Godwin didn't reply immediately because he thought he'd done enough by writing Political Justice, and that someone else could handle the much easier task of refuting Malthus' bad ideas. This had nothing to do with Godwin needing 20 years of thought or research. Godwin underestimated how influential Malthus would turn out to be, and overestimated the ability of other thinkers to address the issue.


I will keep reading Rothbard anyway. I don't think there's a superior alternative, and I do think he's better about other thinkers that he researched more, especially when their focus is more on economics (Rothbard doesn't adquately understand Godwin's thinking about reason).


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Bad Scholarship on VDare

From VDare: 93% Of Democrats Think It's Important That Fewer Whites Be Elected.

The article leads with a chart, which says that 75.1% of Democrats believe that "Whites are favored". The chart repeats later in the article. Problems:

  1. The chart has no source.

  2. The author falsely claimed that he always gives sources. Actually he had to be asked the source on Twitter because he hadn't given it. The source is these CNN exit polls.

  3. To get the chart, the author did math on the CNN exit poll data. He did not show his work.

  4. I checked what math he did by asking him on Twitter, since he didn't document it. His math was wrong. Where he got 75.1%, the correct answer was 75%. He added an extra significant figure to exaggerate how good his data was. He admitted I was right, but thought the matter deserved the comment "lol" rather than saying e.g. "My mistake, I will fix it."


The chart was brought to my attention by khaaan on Twitter, who questioned its sourcing.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (19)

Taleb Is Wrong: Killing Millions Actually Is Risky

Alan Forrester writes Criticising Taleb’s Precautionary Principle Paper, quoting Nassim Nicholas Taleb (and his co-authors):

The PP states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (such as general health or the environment), and in the absence of scientific near-certainty about the safety of the action, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing the action. It is meant to deal with effects of absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge in some risky domains.

I'm quoting this as context for what I say later. As a side note, I refuted the burden of proof idea in my Yes or No Philosophy.

The purpose of the PP is to avoid a certain class of what, in probability and insurance, is called “ruin” problems [1]. A ruin problem is one where outcomes of risks have a non zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses.

Taleb wants us not to use GMOs – genetically modified food like Golden Rice which helps provide more food and vitamins, especially for poor foreigners.

Forrester summarizes David Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) criticizing the Precautionary Principle (PP):

The PP assumes that new innovations will make the world worse and so that current knowledge is basically okay and not riddled with flaws that might lead to the destruction of civilisation. But our knowledge is riddled with flaws that might destroy civilisation. Human beings are fallible so any piece of knowledge we have might be mistaken. And those mistakes can be arbitrarily large in their consequences because otherwise we would know we were right every time we made a decision above the maximum mistake size. In addition, we can be mistaken about the consequences of a decision so a mistake we think is small might turn out to be a large mistake. The only way to deal with the fact that our knowledge might be wrong is to improve our ability to invent and criticise new ideas so we can solve problems faster. Taleb doesn’t address any of these points in his paper. He doesn’t refer to BoI. Nor do any of the arguments in his paper address Deutsch’s criticisms of the PP.

Taleb's argument is a Pascal’s Wager successor. Pascal's Wager says we should believe in God because the downside of being mistaken about atheism is eternity in hell. Meanwhile the downside of being a Christian, if God doesn't exist, is finite: e.g. some wasted Church visits and prayers. Even if the odds God exists are 0.00001%, given the stakes, one should believe in God and try to get into Heaven.

Pascal's trick is to compare an infinite downside (eternity in hell) with a finite downside (decades of having a worse life). The infinitely important issue will always win unless its probability is 0%. (Ignored is the possibility of a rational, atheistic approach to life helping create life-extension medicine that results in immortality.)

A "ruin" problem is, like eternity in hell, a problem with infinite downside.

With Pascal's Wager, one can argue that God's existence shouldn't be assigned any probability. Small probability is a bad way to deal with bad explanations, bad logic, bad reasoning, unanswered criticisms, losing the argument, etc.

With Taleb's ruin problems, there is risk above 0%. They aren't myths or superstitions like God or ghosts. They are conceivable scenarios.

Taleb uses his argument like Pascal's Wager, e.g. "No matter how increased the probability of benefits, ruin as an absorbing barrier, i.e. causing extinction without further recovery, can more than cancels them out." No matter how large the finite benefits, ruin always matters more. (Minor note: Taleb should have written "cancel" not "cancels".)

It's questionable that even the total extinction of humanity, or of all intelligent life in the universe, should be assigned infinite importance rather than just very very large importance. But I'll set that question aside.

There's a simple answer to Taleb. Everything he proposes also risks ruin. There are risks of ruin either way.

Taleb proposes, in short, to slow down industrial and scientific progress. He proposes more poverty for longer. He proposes more people being blind for lack of Golden Rice – and therefore they will be inferior scientists and inventors. He proposes more people dying for lack of food, or ending up in jail for stealing food – which gets in the way of being a philosopher, businessman, economist, etc.

Delays to industrial and scientific progress are risks of "ruin". They delay the time until we're a two planet species (or two solar systems or two galaxies). Every additional day we spend with a single point of failure (one planet) is a risk. Maybe that's the day a meteor, plague, alien invasion or other risk will ruin our planet. We're in a race against ruin. The clock is ticking before the next big meteor or other ruinous threat. The faster we improve our meteor defenses, and our wealth and technology in general, the better position we're in to deal with that ruin risk or any other ruin risk that may come up. There are some dangers that we don't foresee at all; our best defense against the unknown is to have lots of knowledge, lots of control over physical reality, and other general purpose tools and resources.

Slower progress with more poverty and misery is also a ruin risk for the individuals who go blind, starve, die of aging before a technological solution is available, etc.

And greater poverty and misery in the world, with worse science, increases our risk of ruin from violence. Our ruin could come from resentment from people who want Golden Rice and feel (reasonably, IMO, but it's a risk even if they're wrong) that we're oppressing them. Civilization may be destroyed by Islam, China, Russia or some other war. The sooner everyone lives in a much nicer world (paradise by current standards), the lower our risk of war.

Civilization may be destroyed by the spread of bad ideas. The more prosperity is brought by the use of reason (e.g. science), the more people will be impressed and value reason. Accomplishments help persuade people. The sooner the safer.

Perhaps Taleb things the destruction of civilization, and another dark ages, doesn't constitute ruin because one day people may reinvent civilization. But the destruction of civilization could result in extinction. It could involve biological warfare which creates a disease capable of killing us all. It could involve nuclear and chemical warfare which kills so many, and renders so much land uninhabitable, that everyone ends up dying. It could involve new weapons technology. If GMOs could ruin us, surely a violent conflict could where people are trying to cause mass destruction on purpose. If nothing else turns out to be more effective (doubtful, IMO), people could try to create harmful GMOs on purpose as a weapon.

Slower progress isn't safe. Nothing provides any guaranteed safety against ruin. In general, rapid progress is the safest option. The status quo isn't sustainable, as Deutsch explains in the "Unsustainable" chapter of BoI.

I wonder if Taleb tried to think of ruin problems affecting his proposal for the death more poor non-white children and many other bad outcomes (even if no such thinking made it into the paper). With Guardian headlines like Block on GM rice ‘has cost millions of lives and led to child blindness’, a reasonable person would give serious consideration to not advocating more of that happening. Does it make sense that denying nutritious food to millions is the safe, no-risk option, while using science to improve their lives is the big risk? That's not impossible, intellectually, but one should make a serious effort to think of counter-arguments. But Taleb (in the full paper) didn't. He briefly suggested maybe the downsides of no GMOs are less than some reports because they have other causes which GMOs don't solve. OK but isn't there a risk that no Golden Rice has killed and will kill millions? Nothing he said could reasonably be treated as a reason that risk is zero. So then, did he analyze whether there is any way that that really bad stuff could lead to ruin? No, all he did is say:

Most of the discussions on "saving the poor from starvation" via GMOs miss the fundamental asymmetry shown in 7.

But it's only a fundamental asymmetry if there are no ruin risks associated with having governments forcibly malnourish the poor. But Taleb (and co-authors) didn't consider or analyze that.


What do I think of ruin risks? The short term affects our long term prospects, as I've been explaining, so they generally don't involve such a big difference as Taleb believes. In general, I think the right answer will be good in the short and long term, good in the big and small picture. We can make life good now and in the future instead of needing to make big, awful sacrifices to try to create a better future. Our success and prosperity now is what will lead to and create a good future.


Disclaimer: I don’t regard this as productive intellectual discourse. A reader might get the impression that this is the sort of critical debate which is supposed to take place between thinkers. I don't think so. I don’t think Taleb is making a good-faith or productive contribution to discourse. I don’t regard him as a worthy opponent. I think he acted intellectually irresponsibly, he’s not open to discussion or learning new ideas, and the bad philosophy thinking he’s a part of is one of the world’s big ruin risks. I regard my post as similar to debunking a UFO sighting.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)