The Misleading Photo And A Senator’s Trauma: Emotions Over Reason In Policymaking And Public Opinion

misleading photo

Here is Senator Diane Feinstein explaining her qualifications to lead the charge on Capital Hill to restrict firearms, after Sen Ted Cruz (R-Tx) implied that she was not sufficiently schooled in the Second Amendment: “I’m not a sixth grader. Senator, I’ve been on the committee for 20 years,” Feinstein said angrily. “I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot, I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons, I’ve seen the bullets that implode. And Sandy Hook youngsters were dismembered… I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years, I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” Her emotional statement echoed her similar response to a challenge during another assault weapon ban debate, twenty years ago, when she was a freshman and could not cite her legislative experience. Then she said,

“I am quite familiar with firearms. I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague [Harvey Milk] and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”

So now we know. Diane Feinstein has reason to know guns can kill people, and has been personally traumatized by them. That is supposed to qualify her as a cool, rational, balanced and fair legislator in deliberations over whether citizens who have never broken the law and don’t intend to can buy the weapons they want to. Continue reading

The Siena Research Institute’s Lousy Independence Day Gift: Misleading, Biased and Incompetent Presidential Rankings

The Siena College Research Institute persuaded over 200 presidential scholars to participate in a survey designed to rank America’s forty-three Chief Executives. There is great deal to be leaned from the resulting list that the Institute proudly released on July 1; unfortunately, very few of the lessons have anything to do with the men on it.

The list shows us that:

  • A survey is only as good as its design
  • Historians who call themselves “presidential scholars,” working together, could do no better in their supposed area of expertise than to arrive at a ranking that would get most 7th Graders a C in junior high school History, raising serious questions about how history is taught in our universities, but perhaps explaining why Americans choose to be so ignorant of their nation’s past.
  • Historians are, as a group, biased toward liberal causes, against conservatives, and in favor of people who are like them.
  • They are unable to recognize their biases, even when a list like this one makes them stunningly obvious.

Lists are mostly for fun and to start arguments. When one purports to make historical judgments, however, and the individuals doing the judging are supposed to be experts, there is still a responsibility to try to do the task fairly, competently, and responsibly. Continue reading