Responsible Journamalism

by Henry on June 5, 2007

“Linda Hirshman”: pronounces from on high on how opinionators in the Mommy Wars should use data:

What’s the difference between our decisions to publish? Well, Morgan Steiner knew about the studies that showed the opposite of what she was saying. Not quibbles at the margin; the opposite conclusions. She even cited the author of one of them in her article. Her distinction was risible and easily falsified. But more to the point, her report was not only factually unreliable, it was also dangerous. Her “good news” could lead women on the fence to quit, thinking they could always go back. Back, yes, but not back to the future.

Good for Linda! But it reminds me that CT never linked to this “Linda Hirshman thread”: in which she gets comprehensively pwned by Mark Schmitt for herself abusing data in the cause of a convenient story. Mark sums it up (rather more politely than I would have done) “thus”:

Linda, on one more point — you say: “the Don’t Know argument, btw, had you bothered to look, has been definitively refuted by Luskin and Bullock, whom I cite for that point in my post. You know you can learn a lot from reading your adversary’s writing before you respond” …So because of my own dedication to actual facts, I made my way through this paper. Lo and behold, just a single mention of gender in the entire paper! … This is not a “definitive rebuttal” in any sense — they concede the point. … I hadn’t previously questioned your three paragraphs on the data, but I’m beginning to think that you have simply strip-mined the academic literature for evidence that proves your point, rather than evaluated it seriously..

To which Linda’s “devastating comeback”: is:

Mark, we’re even boring me. Have a nice weekend.

If I’d ever misused data that badly, and been caught at it, I think I’d have wanted to disappear into a hole for a year or two. I certainly wouldn’t start pronouncing anathemas on my opponents for ignoring inconvenient evidence (a sin to be sure, but a rather more venial one than the one that I myself would have been guilty of). But then, I’m not Linda Hirshman.

Good Comics

by John Holbo on June 5, 2007

Emerson (not our John) writes:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

But, in honor of this panel from Tales of Woodsman Pete, with full particulars [highly recommended!] …


… I thought I would recommend a few good comics about people with powers. [click to continue…]

Academic boycott of Israel redux

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2007

I’m confused. According to the many media reports, the UCU, successor to the AUT and NATFE and the main trade union representing British academics, “has voted to reinstitute the boycott of Israeli universities”:,,2091769,00.html that the AUT finally rejected last year. But in fact, _as far as I can tell_ , the UCU Congress has done no such thing. Rather it has passed some rather wooly pro-Palestinian resolutions and has ordered its executive to promote discussion of the boycott at branches over the next year or so. The practical effect of this in the world is at best close to zero. In fact it is almost certainly negative: no-one actually gets boycotted but the worst elements of the Israeli right (and the likes of Alan Dershowitz) get a renewed opportunity to portray themselves as victims.

Aside from the general stupidity of the boycott campaign (well “summed-up”: by Steven Poole last year), it promises to consume a lot of energy in fruitless arguments that go nowhere. Last time this happened “I stood up on my hind legs at my local AUT branch and opposed the pro-boycott motion”: . I’ll vote against it again this time, when the opportunity presents itself. I have to say though, that I’m a lot less motivated to oppose the boycotters than I was. They are just as wrong as they ever were, but I’ve been sufficiently disgusted by Israeli conduct over the past year (especially in Lebanon) not to feel all that much enthusiasm for making a big effort. And then there’s the fact that when I did speak up against the boycott I received a load of offensive email. Normally, you’d expect to get such email from the people on the other side, telling you what a horrible sellout you’ve been. But I didn’t receive a single bit of hostile email from a pro-Palestinian persepective. Rather, I got a good deal from Likudniks and their American friends who mistakenly assumed that if I opposed the boycott I must share their vile perspective on Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular. (No thanks. Go away! I don’t want email from people like you.)

“Martha Nussbaum’s article in Dissent”: puts the case against the boycott pretty well. However there’s one pro-boycott argument that she doesn’t address and which I’ve not heard a good reply to. It doesn’t, for me, outweigh the arguments against, but I do think it weakens the often-put “double standards” argument that anti-Israel measures unfairly discriminate against Israel since there are far worse countries in the world. (This is often accompanied by the further claim that because Israel is picked out whilst other countries are worse, the motive of the boycotters must be sinister and is probably anti-semitic.) The argument is this: that the Israeli perpetrators of injustice are far more vulnerable to outside pressure than, say, the Chinese or the Russians are. Measures taken against Israel therefore stand a better chance of being effective. The Russian treatment of the Chechens or the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans may indeed be worse than the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. But we can take action _now_ to force the Israelis to negotiate and to end the injustice of the occupation, whereas we cannot act with similar prospect of success against Russia or China. Obviously that argument depends on a number of facts about the way the world is. And those facts are highly contestable. But it doesn’t depend (to the contrary!) on any claim that Israel is uniquely or even especially evil or unjust.

Zugzwang …

by John Quiggin on June 5, 2007

… is a term from chess meaning compulsion to move. Most of the time, it’s an advantage to have the next move, but there are situations, particularly in the endgame when you’d much rather it was the other player’s turn.

So it has been with climate change, at least for some players in the game. The big divide in the negotiations for the Kyoto protocol was between the more developed countries, which had created the problem and continued to produce most emissions of greenhouse gases, and the less developed, which were the main source of likely future growth. The agreement reached was that the developed countries would make the first round of cuts, reducing emissions below 1990 levels* by 2012, after which a more comprehensive agreement would require contributions from everyone.

As soon as the Bush Administration was elected though, it denounced this as unfair and said the US would do nothing unless China and India moved first. The Howard government, until then a fairly enthusiastic proponent of Kyoto, immediately echoed the Bush line. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, China and India stuck to the agreement they’d signed and ratified.

The resulting standoff suited lots of people. Most obviously, while the Bushies were denouncing the unfair advantages given to China and India, they were also pushing as hard as they could to ensure that they and other developing countries did nothing that would facilitate a post-Kyoto agreement. And of course plenty of people in China and India were happy enough not to have to take any hard decisions on the topic.

[click to continue…]