More Lancet denialism …

by Daniel on March 23, 2005

Like Sisyphus in Camus’ essay, I have come to the conclusion that myself and Tim Lambert only get involved in tackling the neverending wave of idiots who suddenly believe themselves to be statistical savants when reading[1] the Lancet study, because of the pleasure we get when from time to time they stop. This isn’t one of those times.

I think that Patient Zero of the current outbreak is the appalling Reynolds, who has apparently learned statistics over the last year (or at least, I distinctly remember him claiming to be “unable to say” whether John Lott was a hack or not, but here he is, talking stats with the best of them[2]). But for sheer asininity and bombast, you can’t beat Shannon Love (you may remember him as the architect of the “cluster sampling critique”, and if you don’t know what that is, good luck for you), who appears to be claiming that the Lancet team told lies on purpose in order to create propaganda for the Ba’ath party. As Tim says, this would be libellous if it were not so obviously stupid. Mr Love has decided to up the ante and “fisk” the whole report. I’m afraid that I was rather rude to him in his comments thread.

The arbiters of American journalistic standards are on our side now, so I suspect that we are fucked.

[1] I jest, of course. “Reading the study”! I crack me up.
[2] The best of them, to be honest, is still pretty bad.

Bankruptcy again

by John Q on March 23, 2005

I’ve been reading Todd Zywicki’s paper An Economic Analysis Of The Consumer Bankruptcy Crisis (1Mb PDF). Zywicki’s approach is to look at aggregate time-series data on a set of suggested causes of rising bankruptcy, suggest that the pattern for these time-series doesn’t match the observed increase in bankruptcy, The main point is, as he says,

Static or declining variables, such as unemployment, divorce, or health care costs, cannot explain a variable that is increasing in value, such as bankruptcy filing rates.

Hence, he says, the ‘traditional model’ of bankruptcy as a “last resort” outcome of financial distress is no longer valid. He therefore falls back on the residual hypothesis of changes in consumer behavior in the form of an increased willingness to resort to bankruptcy, possibly due to the rise of impersonal modes of lending and the decline of moral sanctions. Zywicki doesn’t mention the other obvious residual possibility: an exogenous increase in willingness to lend to high-risk borrowers, but symmetry suggests he ought to.

I don’t think Zywicki’s is the ideal research strategy (see below) but it has the advantage that anyone can play, armed only with Google. So let me point to a variable that has risen in the right way and could reasonably be expected to lead to rising rates of bankruptcy. That variable is the volatility of individual income, or, in simpler terms, the economic risk faced by the average person.

What this means is that the bankruptcy ‘crisis’ is an outcome of the general changes in the US economy over the past 30 years or so. If it weren’t for expanded credit and increased reliance on bankruptcy, the distress caused by growing inequality and income volatility would have been substantially greater. If bankruptcy laws are tightened, distress will increase. To put it simply, bankruptcy is the lesser of two evils.

I’m not getting continuations to work. There’s a full version at my blog.

Any maiden aunts who read CT possibly ought to skip this post, as it contains, in the interests of plain speaking on an issue where squeamishness might cost lives, one use of the “v-word“. I’m back on an old pedantic hobby-horse; the epidemiology of MRSA and the British political culture’s dangerous and annoying refusal to understand it properly. But this time, I have an actual policy suggestion.
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The war on pointy-headedness

by Ted on March 23, 2005

Via MyDD:

TALLAHASSEE: Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities…

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.”

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

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Gypsies and Nazis

by Daniel on March 23, 2005

I have no idea why people whose judgement I usually regard as sound consider Kevin MacNamara’s remarks to be in any way uncalled-for. As far as I can see, the Conservative Party’s new policy on gypsies is utterly odious; the Conservative Party themselves are not particularly similar to the Nazis, but their policy on Gypsy camps is sufficiently similar to be worthy of the analogy. Michael Howard (who created this problem in the first place by removing the obligation on local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies) has said, in public, that he intends to repeal or alter the “so-called” Human Rights Act in order to deprive Gypsies of their right to due legal process in challenging refusals to give planning consent for campsites on land that they have bought. This is scandalous. The Human Rights Act, among other things, guarantees due process for anyone who finds themselves having legal restrictions placed on their ability to do what they want with their property, or to have a home for themselves and their families in a community of their choice. In matters of planning disputes, Gypsies have rather more need for judicial review than most of us, because local authorities tend to racially discriminate against them. But what Michael Howard is saying is that he will alter the law so as to have the effect of removing this protection from Gypsies, because he wants non-Gypsies to be able to prevent Gypsies from living near them and regards this as more important than the public
policy issue.
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I can’t hear you

by Ted on March 23, 2005

Kevin Drum recently wrote about the danger of the unceasing partisan war against the media:

If this continues, the eventual result will be an almost universal ability to ignore any news report you don’t like simply by claiming it’s the result of bias and therefore not to be trusted. This is unhealthy.

I’ve been noticing this for a while. It used to be limited to blog comment threads, more or less, but it’s been creeping up the food chain. Look at the way that popular right-wing bloggers talk about Seymour Hersh, for example. Nobel Prize-nominated blogger Tom Maguire from Just One Minute is one of the most intelligent, careful right-wing bloggers, but he’s not immune to it. See this uncharacteristic post.

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Dept. of credit where credit is due

by Henry Farrell on March 23, 2005

While writing up the last post, I went back to try to find a blistering review by Fred Halliday of Martin Kramer’s Ivory Towers on Sand , which was published in International Affairs (of London) last year. I’d thought about blogging it then, but decided not to because it was behind a paywall and thus inaccessible to most of CT’s readers. However, by Googling, I have now discovered that Kramer has made the review available himself on his own website, pending his own response to it (which doesn’t seem to have appeared yet). While I strongly disagree with Kramer’s views as I understand them, I have to say that I find this rather impressive – it speaks well to Kramer’s commitment to debate that he’s willing to make a piece that’s quite harshly critical of his own work more widely available than it otherwise would be.

Spooks in the Academy

by Henry Farrell on March 23, 2005

Should the US academy be trying harder to meet the needs of the intelligence services? That’s the question underlying David Glenn’s fascinating article in this week’s Chronicle. His piece analyzes the debates surrounding a new program in which CIA analysts are sent back to university to acquire specialized training in the social sciences. On the one hand, the program’s defenders point to the urgent need for a better understanding of the cultures and languages of the Middle East and Central Asia. On the other, critics argue that this could lead to CIA monitoring of what is taught in universities, to difficulties for US academic researchers abroad (who might be perceived as spooks in disguise), and to positive harm for those being studied in the foreign countries in question.
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Endangered spouses

by Chris Bertram on March 23, 2005

I don’t know — and neither do you — if “Glenn Reynolds is trying to murder his wife”: (or if Bill Hobbs is trying to murder his) …. but I do know that I find it gratuitously offensive just to leave the possibility open, just hanging there, for rhetorical purposes. But, whatever … if they can dish it out, they can presumably take it. Read the whole thing.