Tag Archives: statistics

Now THAT’S A Terrible Analogy…

Analogy

Daniel L. Byman, a Brookings Institute researcher, authored an article on the organization’s site that would be fun to dissect in its entirety, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. I also have confidence that any half-objective reader can easily see through it without my assistance. Byman is determined to show that radical Islamic terrorism is nothing for U.S. citizens to get their panties in a bunch over, and like so much coming out of places like Brookings these days, his essay is part brief to absolve President Obama from all criticism. Byman also excels in torturing statistics to make his case, leading to the analogy in question:

“With this picture in mind, the challenges facing the United States [in dealing with terrorism] can be broken down into three issues. The first, of course, is the real risk to American lives and those of U.S. allies. In absolute terms, these are small in the United States and only slightly larger in Europe. The average American is more likely to be shot by an armed toddler than killed by a terrorist.”

I’ve had this quote stalled on a potential post list for a while, but the recent discussions here about argument fallacies revived it.

How many things are wrong with this analogy? Let’s see: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship

From The “Is The News Media Trying To Destroy Any Credibility It Has Left, Or Is It Just Too Biased And Stupid To Help Itself?” Files: The New York Times’ “Fact Check”

who-can-you-trustIn July 2016, Donald Trump said, in one of his more accurate public statements:

Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent.

In July 2016, “Last year” meant 2015, as absolutely everyone understood. Homicides in D.C. did increase by 54 percent in 2015, from 105 in 2014 to 162. The statement was accurate.

Now, however, it’s 2017. This means that “last year” doesn’t mean 2015 any more, but 2016!  Figures on the year just completed show that homicides in D.C. fell in 2016 to 135. Thus the New York Times–you know, that flagship of trustworthy American journalism—through its reporter Emily Badger, decided to “fact-check” that statement by Trump from July, and found that he deceived us. Again. Badger wrote:

“Another end-of-year fact-check, while we’re at it: Mr. Trump claimed during the campaign that the homicide rate in his new home in Washington rose by 50 percent. In fact, it fell by 17 percent in 2016.”

There he goes again! Lying his head off! Citing fake statistics! But trust us, folks, we’ll be right there at the ready for the next four years, so he can’t get away with this constant deception!

Notice how the Times uses “claimed” to imply that Trump was making stuff up.  But he wasn’t making stuff up. The Times was making stuff up by “claiming” in this fact-check that Trump  misstated the facts, when he did not.  He wouldn’t have even been wrong, as Eugene Volokh points out, if he had been comparing 2016 to 2014, the year he was comparing 2015 to in July. The homicide rate in D.C. rose by  28 percent from 2014 to 2016.

‘Trump falsely stated that crime rose in Washington D.C.’ is a lie. It is fake news.

Writes the law professor, using far more restraint than I would (or will):

There’s a lot to be said for not focusing too much on year-to-year changes in homicide statistics, which can be volatile. Even a rise over two years doesn’t tell us that much, though it’s troubling. And we should indeed remember that homicides and other crimes have generally declined sharply from their 1991 peak (though of course we want to be watchful for any reversal of the trend). If the argument is simply in favor of caution about reading too much into yearly statistics, I’m all for that.

But the New York Times “fact-check…” suggests that Trump got his facts wrong (he “claimed” one thing but “in fact” it was something else), and I think it misleads readers into missing the fact that, even counting the 2016 decline, the homicide still rose sharply from the reference year Trump was using — 2014 — to the present.

Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

Curse You, Political Correctness Bullies! Now You’re Forcing Me To Defend Lena Dunham!

Dunham2

A downside of running an ethics blog is that you have to defend really disgusting people from time to time: Harry Reid, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump…and now Lena Dunham. In fact, this story rescued the “Girls” creator from a different post here, as she recently had to apologize for an online newsletter rant that attacked the character of NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. and attributed various sexist attitudes to him based purely on the fact that he showed no interest in her when they were seated together at a recent function. ( Legitimate reasons why he may have ignored her: he had other things on his mind, she’s not his type, she’s a professional jerk, she’s Lena Dunham).

Before I have to defend Dunham, who is an awful person based on available evidence, let me make a few observations. One is that fame in the 21st Century can expose the unsavory and unethical nature of the famous far more than it did in pre-social media days. This is part of Donald Trump’s plight. Another is that Twitter and social media are literally traps for jerks, and it is amazing that so many of them keep getting caught, even with the bodies of previous trap-ees littering the immediate landscape. Finally, I wonder if there are still publicists around in the tradition of my late friend, Bob McElwaine. and if there are, why doesn’t Lena hire one to save her from herself? Bob was a Hollywood Golden Age publicist who saw his job as keeping the fact that his clients were jerks secret. He was great at it: his major client was Danny Kaye, a truly vile, troubled and nasty individual whose public persona was exactly the opposite.

All right, enough stalling.

For some reason, this Dunham tweet from five years ago surfaced, and has led a social media lynch mob to attack Dunham as being a racist…

Dunham tweet

Pop quiz: What exactly is it about the tweet that makes it racist?

The answer is “Nothing.” Racism requires attributing negative features or conduct to an individual or group based solely on racial bias and prejudice. It is not racism to base conclusions on statistical reality. Interestingly, most of the attacks on the tweet claim that the tweet is anti-Asian. It is racist to attribute virtuous qualities, like a reluctance to rape, to a race? Wow! Apparently the tweet is being condemned as a slur on Asian manhood. Since when is it manly to rape someone? Silly me: I assumed that Dunham was referring to well-documented  cultural support of respect for women, law-abiding conduct and other ethical virtues in Asian-American families.

Or is the complaint that by assuming an Asian-American is less of a threat than a male of another race, Dunham was by extension saying that other races were more of a threat? This would most fairly interpreted as an anti-white slur, however, since whites make up almost 75% of the population of convicted rapists. I thought anti-white bigotry was OK in political correctness circles! Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Gender and Sex, Race, Social Media

Major League Baseball Cares About Integrity And I Wish This Proved It…But It Doesn’t

I know this will be a shock, Henry, but there's forest here, not just trees...

I know this will be a shock, Henry, but there’s forest here, not just trees…

On Baseball Prospectus, one of the scholarly baseball sites, Henry Druschel has a provocative, inspiring and ultimately silly post pointing out that if baseball teams were only concerned with winning, they would forfeit games for strategic purposes, yet they literally never do. He writes…

“Teams are almost certainly harming their long-term win rates in a meaningful way by playing until every out of every game has been recorded. For example, the Red Sox encountered a grueling quirk of the schedule on Wednesday night, when they were scheduled to play the Orioles at 7:05 p.m. before traveling to Detroit and playing the Tigers at 1:10 p.m. the next day. When it began to pour in Baltimore at roughly 9:00 p.m., the Red Sox were leading 8-1 after six innings, but imagine if the situation was reversed, and Boston was instead trailing 8-1 with three innings to go. Their odds of coming back to win such a game would be something like 0.5 percent. In such a scenario, they could either wait in the clubhouse until the game was either resumed or officially cancelled, or they could forfeit as soon as the rain began, and head for the airport and Detroit right away. In the non-hypothetical game, the rain delay lasted about 80 minutes before the game was officially called; it seems obvious that an extra hour and a half of rest before the next game would add more to a trailing Boston’s total expected wins than remaining in Baltimore and hoping for a miracle would. That might seem like a corner case, and truthfully, it is; I bring it up to note that no one would even consider a forfeit in such a scenario, despite the strategic logic of the move. This isn’t limited to corner cases, however; every time a position player enters a baseball game as a pitcher in a blowout, teams are harming their long-term expected win totals by not forfeiting instead….”

The writer concludes:

Given that forfeitures would be win-maximizing in certain cases, and given that teams choose never to strategically forfeit regardless, there are two possible conclusions. One: Teams are behaving irrationally. Given the immense value even a single win can have to a franchise, I feel confident stating that this is not the case. That leaves the second conclusion: There is something the team values more than winning as much as possible. There is a societal norm that places something—a competitive ideal, maybe, or just completion—over winning, a norm that would be violated by a strategic forfeit, and a norm that teams invariably follow.

As someone who values other things over winning, this excites me…

Don’t get too excited, Henry.

Yes, I believe that baseball teams take considered actions sometimes that do not maximize their chances of winning. I was roundly pilloried in baseball circles for an article I wrote in 2008 (for another scholarly baseball site)  which argued that Barry Bonds, the shameless steroid cheat and home run champion who was suddenly a free agent and who could, based on his recent exploits, still hit though well past 40, would not be signed by any team—not even the Yankees!—because doing so would signal to that team’s fans, city, players and organization that the team endorsed flagrant dishonesty as well as a willingness to disregard fairness, integrity and sportsmanship for a few extra wins. I was on a MLB radio show where the host laughed at me. “Of course he’ll be signed! You’re crazy!” were his words. “Just wait,” I said. “If he isn’t signed, it will mean that baseball colluded against him!” he said. “Just wait,” I said.

Bonds, who said he was dying to play, that he was healthy, that he’d play for the Major League minimum, that he’d sue MLB if someone didn’t sign him, never swung a bat in anger again. There was no collusion, either. It was pure cognitive dissonance, you see. Remember the scale? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, History, Research and Scholarship, Sports

UPDATE: Even More Reasons To Distrust Katie Couric, Which Means More Reasons To Distrust The Journalists Who Want To Excuse Her

film editing

The Washington Post criticized Katie Couric’s role in approving the deceptive “Under the Gun” documentary edit but also noted that it is “one instance of bad judgment in a long career.” This was an instance of the “Just One Mistake” rationalization…

20. The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy

Related to #16 but still distinct is the excuse that a particular unethical act should be ignored, forgiven or excused as an aberration because “it was just one mistake.” This argument intentionally glosses over the fact that one mistake can be so blatantly unethical and harmful that an ethical person literally never does such a thing, and thus the “one mistake” is a reliable indicator that the actor does not deserve to be trusted. Abuse of power is in this category. Defenders of the unethical also often use this excuse dishonestly and deceptively to designate as one mistake an ongoing episode of continuous unethical conduct. For example, Bill Clinton didn’t make “one mistake” regarding Monica Lewinsky, but hundreds of them, involving lies, deceits, cover-ups and betrayals.

The versatile excuse was applied by one member of the liberal-biased school of journalism to another, and says more about the Post writer ( Callum Borchers) than it does about Couric. He was actually right on the money when he wrote, only to say later it was “unfair,” this:

Couric thinks the media needs to be tougher on Trump. The reality is the current level of toughness hasn’t dented his campaign. What’s the next level of toughness? One could conclude, based on the misleading edit in Couric’s gun documentary, that it involves distorting interviews to produce manufactured flubs, in hopes that one of them will accomplish what no organic mistake has done so far.

Why yes, one could not only conclude that, but witness it in the media’s successful efforts to turn a dumb Trump quote about a judge’s reasons to be biased against him in a law suit into an imaginary smoking gun that proves he’s a racist. Journalists have been eager to allow the public to forget about Couric’s endorsement of misleading and dishonest editing techniques in the service of the anti-gun rights agenda, because her methods are their methods. The woman should be fired. Journalists must be regarded like accountants and auditors: one they have shown that they will lie, even once, they are worthless. Is that a fair standard? I believe it is. Why then are journalists eager to have Couric held to a lower standard? Easy: they don’t want to be held to the appropriate ethics standard either.

The apologists for Couric have been especially revealing; once again, any journalist who defends Couric can be safely placed along with her in the UNTRUSTWORTHY File. Here’s Mediaite’s Rachel Stockman embarrassing and indicting herself, for example, saying that people are being mean to Katie for impugning her integrity… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Rights

As Usual When Gender Discrimination In Wages Is The Issue, There Is More To The Women’s Soccer Lawsuit Than The Media Wants You To Know

women's soccer

The gender wage discrimination issue makes my head start to hurt every time it is raised, which, I admit, has made me grateful that Hillary and Bernie have been concentrating on the other progressive issues they fill with half-truths and deceit. Some of those are the wealth gap, mass incarceration, the evil of big banks, discrimination against Muslims, trigger-happy police, campus sexual assault, climate change, gun violence  and the minimum wage. As with these pet progressive agenda items, it isn’t that there aren’t real problems there that require effective policy initiatives, but that advocates are so infuriatingly dishonest when debating them—exaggerating statistics, demonizing opponents, and persisting in using false facts, studies and myths long after they have been definitively disproved.

If the new media was competent and even-handed, challenging the false assertions as they should, this would not be such an impediment to rational debate. The news media is seldom objective, however. On all of these issues and more, it plays the role of advocate and partisan ally with depressing regularity. An activist on the keft has to make a truly outrageous statement to even be challenged, as when Black Lives Matter organizer Aaron Goggans suggested on CNN yesterday that black on black crime is a “myth.”

There is gender discrimination in wages; I have seen it up close, in my family and in companies and organizations I have worked for. I have personally taken action to address it. The issue is complicated, however, and not close to the absurd “77 cents on the dollar” figure that has been employed, unchanged and virtually unchallenged, for decades, nor is it fairly represented by studies that show how men in the same careers make more over their working lives than women.

Never mind; the news media allows the issue to be debated in an atmosphere dominated by misrepresentations. My reflex approach is that  until advocates for a position are willing to stop lying, spinning, and demonizing, I will pointedly avoid supporting them. Call it the Clean Hands Doctrine. Gun control is one example. Climate change is another.

When  five players on the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filed a federal complaint last week accusing U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination because, they said, they earned as little as 40% of what players on the United States men’s national team earned despite reaching the team’s third World Cup championship last year, I read and heard nothing but cheers from women’s advocates, Democrats, pundits and Facebook posters I also read nothing but sexist snorting from the conservative side. (“Wanna know how to get paid the same as men for playing soccer? Try out for the men’s team! HAR!” ). The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle, but you wouldn’t know that from reading most accounts or watching the news channels. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Sports, U.S. Society, Workplace

Blame Tom Toles For This Post: NO, Obama Can NOT Honestly Claim That He Cut The Deficit

Toles deficit

While we’re on the topic of misleading statements, as in lies, foisted on the American public by the President of the United States, I now have to bring up his boast in his State of the Union speech that “We’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.” [Don’t get me started with “all this.”]

I was going to leave this infuriating line alone, I really was, because when you get on the topic of deficits, the numbers-spinners have a field day. Then I saw Tom Toles’ cartoon, above, for the Washington Post.

Toles, if I haven’t made it clear before, is the worst of a breed that is itself a disgrace to journalism, a form of editorial content that is immune from the ethical restrictions that are supposed to govern journalism. It is the ultimate “clown nose on/ clown nose off” scam, and Toles exploits its license beyond the nauseating limits set by his over-rated predecessor, the equally biased but not quite as shameless Herb Block….you remember, the guy who drew all businessmen as obese, cigar-chomping robber barons out of the 1890s, and conservative Congress members as cavemen. Yeah, he was subtle and fair all right. Toles is much worse.

By what version of English and logic can anyone say that Obama reduced the deficit at all, much less by “almost three-quarters? Here is the chart of the deficits since 2005 in dollars: Continue reading

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