A pet peeve (HAR!!!): computer geeks and statistics experts reducing complex issue into “simple” charts and graphs that have apparent credibility because of their form rather than their substance. I encounter this seductive form of fake erudition—”You can’t argue with statistics!”—in every field I explore: baseball, politics (Sorry, Nate Silver), social science, science (climate change models are a spectacular example), education. “Simple, straightforward” arrays of statistics that hide biases, dubious assumptions, projections, value judgments, undisclosed definitions, and who knows what else are presented to persuade on the false representation that they are “hard” representations of fact. Very frequently, they are not, and when they are not, they incompetent, irresponsible and dishonest. Also arrogant to the core.
You could find no better example of this than this dog chart, by David McCandless, which purports to summarize “big data”—read: “data that can be manipulated to show whatever you want it to show” indicating which dog breeds are “over-rated,” as well as how they score on a “costs and benefits” scale. The fact that anyone could take such a garbage graphic seriously is unsettling, but of course, it will only impress people who know absolutely nothing about dogs and dog breeds. That’s what all such arrays of statistics are for: to convince and mislead those who are too lazy or uninformed to really understand the topic at hand and its complexities, but who want to lay claim to an “informed opinion.”
Just look at this monstrosity (you can read it better here): Continue reading
People who don’t (or can’t) read court decisions—and in this very large group I include most pundits and journalists—are prone to dismiss careful thought out and reasoned judicial arguments that took careful research and consideration as the product of political bias rather than what they (usually) are: sincere, honest, intelligent dissections of issues that are far more complex than advocates for opposing sides care to admit.
The Sixth Circuit just triggered an almost certain U.S. Supreme Court review of state same-sex marriage bans by upholding such bans in several states. Immediately, pro-gay marriage advocates and pundits attacked the decision as “right wing,” as if the court reached the decision from a starting point hostile to gays and homosexuality generally. The implication of this interpretation is that judges do not follow the law, legal principles and standards of jurisprudence and construction, but merely decide what result they wish to reach based on ideological and partisan biases, and then write essays of advocacy disguised as objective analysis.
The presumption is both ignorant, unfair, and convenient. It is ignorant because it assumes that the judicial profession and those in that profession ignore the primary ethical requirements of being a judge, standards that have stood unchanged and unchallenged for centuries and that every jurist swears to uphold. The first two Canons of the ABA Model Judicial Code state those standards clearly: Continue reading
For breedism read racism, for the illogic, bias and cruelty is the same. PetSmart, the nation’s predominant retailer of animal companion products, and one that has built its image, brand and success on being dog-friendly (customers can bring their furry pals on leashes into the stores), engages in the ignorant and deadly practice of anti-pit bull prejudice. Their customers should make it very clear to the company that its unethical and irresponsible stance will not be tolerated.
I’m not going to tolerate it, not because it will make a difference to PetSmart, but because I couldn’t look my dog in the eye again if I didn’t. Continue reading
I felt badly about piling up three posts recently on unethical female Democrats running for office, and was inspired by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent to do some analysis of Republican candidates who, at least according to Sargent, deserve equivalent criticism to what has been leveled at Alison Lundergan Grimes for refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama. [She did it again last night in her debate with Sen. McConnell.]
Sometimes finding Republican candidates who deserve an Ethics Alarms slap is hard, unless they say something bat wacky like, say, Richard Mourdock. If a Democrat is flagged by The Daily Beast or the Post, I can be pretty sure there was something said or done that was objectively troubling, because the mainstream media will bury anything from a Democrat that is vaguely defensible. A Republican, however, might be accused of certified insanity for a statement that offends progressive cant. Fox and many of the right wing websites, meanwhile, will ignore any Republican whose pronouncements don’t rise to “I am the Lizard Queen!” level of derangement, and will find fault with Democratic candidates on dubious grounds. Here are the GOP candidates for today’s ethics audit: Joni Ernst (U.S. Senate in Iowa); Tom Cotton (U.S. Senate in Arkansas); and Greg Abbott (Texas Governor race): Continue reading
1. The campaign of Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has issued an attack ad directly referencing gubernatorial rival Greg Abbott’s partial paralysis, and includes the image of an empty wheelchair. Davis could claim—and will, if she hasn’t already–that the implication that his use of a wheelchair argues against his qualifications to be governor is inadvertent or imagined, except that her supporters were caught in a Project Veritas video mocking Abbott for his disability, and Davis has made gaffes relating to his handicap before, as when she said that he hadn’t “walked a day in her shoes.”
2. She is a member of a party with supporters in the media ready to pounce on any Republican who makes a similarly provocative reference to an opposing candidate’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender or “abled status.” The double standard is certainly a campaign boon to Democrats, but they have to take advantage of it a bit more subtly than this.
3. What is primarily wrong with the ad, however, isn’t the wheelchair, or the use of tactics that would called an appeal to bigotry if they were used by Republicans. It is that the arguments the ad seem to be making are stupid, unfair and wrong, and ones that Davis, who is a lawyer, must know are stupid and wrong, or she is stupid and wrong. Continue reading
This week’s print TIME and the magazine’s website has a story titled “Astrologer Susan Miller On Why You Should Pay Attention to the Lunar Eclipse.” The TIME writer, Laura Stampler, promotes the astrologer as if she was Nate Silver, a reliable, respectable expert in a legitimate field who has something to teach us. Susan Miller is not a reliable, respectable expert. She is an astrologer, meaning that she is as legitimate as a palm reader, a douser, or the Amazing Kreskin. She is a fraud, in a fraudulent field, however ancient or popular. There is no scholarly controversy about this. There is more evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, ghosts and flying saucers than there is that astrology is more than pseudo-scientific claptrap. Continue reading
This is really stupid, but imagine if there’s a watch on it! Useful AND stupid at the same time! What a concept!
Billionaire Mark Cuban is an entrepreneur, investor, and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, but in one of his more trivial enterprises (sometimes it appears that he is aspiring to be the next Donald Trump—now why would anyone do that?), he serves as a “shark” investor on the ABC TV reality show “Shark Tank.” There investors and nascent entrepreneurs compete to justify their brilliant new ideas to investors, and there Cuban recently distinguished himself as well as served as a much-needed cultural role model by calling out a fraudulent product while attempting to educate a stubbornly ignorant public.
One contestant, Ryan Naylor, hoped to succeed with what he called “a fashion accessory with health benefits.” Esso Watches, he said, restore the body’s “energy field” and improve sense of balance. You’ve seen the bracelets and necklaces that athletes wear and that work on the same theory, the theory being magic, or, if you will “negative ion technology.” When Naylor handed out samples of his product to the judges, Cuban refused to even take one, saying, “No, I’m allergic to scams. Seriously, this is not new. It’s been disproven. What you saw is the placebo effect. There’s athletes that wear it. It’s a joke. It’s a scam. It’s not real. I’m out. Okay. Thank you.” Then, having been emboldened, the rest of the judges piled on: there was blood in the water, and you know how sharks are.
In one of the filmed asides to the camera, a discouraged and bitter Naylor blamed his failure on Cuban, who, he suggested, was so emphatic about the fact that his watch’s health claims were nonsense that nobody would challenge him.
Good. Continue reading