Bloggingheads and lampposts

by Henry on December 18, 2006

I’m on “bloggingheads again”:http://bloggingheads.tv/video.php?id=171 with Dan Drezner. Dan and I had a long discussion about Krugman and whether or not academics should get engaged in broader political debates, dipping into Krugman’s recent “piece”:http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/12699486/paul_krugman_on_the_great_wealth_transfer/print on inequality as we went along. One of the things I mentioned was the bit in Krugman’s _Peddling Prosperity_ where he talks about the way in which people can cherry-pick economic statistics in order to prove what they want to prove. Krugman is talking about aggregate growth statistics, but nonetheless the point travels.

by choosing your years carefully and talking a good game, you can seem to prove whatever conclusion you like … We learn that a clever propagandist, right or left, can always find a way to present the data on economic growth that seems to support her case. And we therefore also learn to take any statistical analysis from a strongly political source with handfuls of salt. Someone once said about partisan analysis that they use economic data the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination (Peddling Prosperity pp.110-111).

Cue “Alan Reynolds”:http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2006/12/reynolds_rap_on.html in comments at Mark Thoma’s place, defending a rather dubious-sounding WSJ “editorial”:http://users1.wsj.com/lmda/do/checkLogin?mg=wsj-users1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB116607104815649971-search.html attacking claims that income inequality has been growing since _1980._

there is no clear evidence of a sustained and significant increase in inequality since 1988 by any other measure. I very carefully did not say there was no such evidence about 1981-87.

Indeed.

Reynolds goes on to defend his choice of periodization, but it would appear that he has a bit of a “track record”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2006/12/intellectual_ga.html#comment-26687832 (to extend Krugman’s metaphor) for employing lampposts not only to provide support, but to meet those other needs and imperatives that drunks are subject to while weaving their way home after a convivial evening.

(Note by the way that Krugman’s criticisms come in the midst of a longer discussion of how chancers at think tanks rather than proper economists have come to dominate debate; while academic peer review doesn’t serve as a perfect protection against this sort of cherry picking, it does make it considerably more difficult to get away with).

Business opportunity for warming denialists

by Chris Bertram on December 18, 2006

Reading an “article about the current snow shortage in Europe’s ski resorts”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6185345.stm , I came across the following passage:

bq. “Already banks are refusing to offer loans to resorts under 1,500 metres as they fear for their future snow cover.”

This surely presents a tremendous money-making opportunity for global warming “skeptics”. If the banks won’t lend these resorts money, then there’s a gap which the denialists could exploit and thereby make themselves rich. What could possibly go wrong?

Buster Returns

by Jon Mandle on December 18, 2006

My friend Dennis Gaffney, a freelance writer, has a story in today’s NY Times about the return of “Postcards from Buster.” (He tells me that he has another piece on the same subject forthcoming in The Nation.) The PBS children’s show, you may remember, lost its funding after the animated title character, who interacts with real children, visited a girl from Vermont to learn about maple syrup. The child casually mentioned that she has two mothers – the implication, not stated explicitly, was that they are gay – and Buster replied with the unforgettable line: “Wow – that’s a lot of moms.”

In one of her first official acts, just before being sworn in as Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings wrote to the head of PBS threatening to cut its funding because “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode.” The “exposure”, of course, was simply portraying the existence of gay parents. The real sin was clearly the casual manner of presentation – like it was no big deal. PBS refused to distribute the episode and didn’t renew the show. Here’s a 2005 Washington Post piece about the cancellation, and here’s a Boston Globe story quoting the mom involved.

But now Buster is back with a new (albeit small) commitment from PBS and a variety of non-traditional funding sources. This season he’s visiting a family living on an Army base, and he is returning to visit some kids that he met in Louisiana during the first season who survived Katrina. Even when dealing with these tough issues, I’m sure the episodes will be presented with the same fun and matter-of-fact attitude that makes the show so enjoyable.