A hard day’s cargo cult science

by Daniel on July 29, 2007

Good news readers! I’ve gone mad! I don’t know what it was that tipped me over the edge but I’m now a signed up 27%er and I’ve decided to start applying my new grasp of the scientific method! After all, our scientific institutions are being destroyed by the leftist politicised science of global warming and the Lancet study, and that’s just not on. Luckily my cheerful attitude and can-do approach to statistics survived my trip to the dark side so I’ve been hard at work all morning applying the sort of tenacious scientific critique that my new status as a crazy person allows me to carry out with no qualifications whatever.

I started with the UK Census. I’ve always thought that there were maybe a few more, or possibly less, ethnic minorities in Camden than the census said, so I phoned them up and asked for the data. The woman on the end of the line pointed me toward their website and noted that there was quite a lot of county-level data there which might be helpful. I explained that no, I wanted the data, by which I meant the actual census forms. They won’t release the data! Really! I shouted that this was a fundamental building block of the scientific method, and that her sinister refusal to hand over the forms to any random person who asked was the equivalent of the Catholic Church burning Galileo[1]. While she was on the line, I asked for the last month’s death figures for Central London – after all, since she’s the central registering authority for births and deaths, she ought to have them at her fingertips as they must magically update every time a hospital morgue writes a certificate. I think she was in tears by the time she slammed the phone down, so Advantage: Blogosphere!

Next on to the Dow Jones Industrial Average people. Did you know that there are three entire missing days from their figures, which suspiciously enough[2] just “happen” to be September 12-15, 2001???????Q? I suppose we are meant to assume that this “missing cluster” was selected at RANDOM!!!!11! Some chance. Clearly the leftist MSMs of Dow Jones International censored these numbers, because they would have added so much to the variance of the DJIA that we could no longer be sure that it wasn’t 36,000! Perfidy! Wal-Mart are releasing their Q2 earnings numbers next week, or at least I should say “releasing” their “numbers”, because as I found out, when you go down to Bentonville demanding a look at the till rolls, you don’t even get let into the car park. Scientific method, my ASS!

Stay tuned for more science, readers, because until this case of Red Bull runs out, I am going to be a blogoscientific force of nature!

[1] Galileo was not actually burned, but I am now a right wing crazy person, so this kind of factul nitpicking no longer bothers me.

[2] The fonts are a lot more fun on this side of the political divide too.

One endless Rathergate

by John Quiggin on July 29, 2007

The rightwing blogosphere, with assistance from the usual MSM types like Howard Kurtz has spent the last week or two trying to discredit a soldier, Scott Beauchamp, who wrote a “Baghdad Diary” for The New Republic, which included various examples of casually callous behavior on the part of US soldiers (nothing on the scale of Abu Ghraib or other proven cases).

For the wingers, this is a continuous pattern. Before this, there was a flap about a report that failures by contractors were resulting in troops in the field not getting adequate food. Before that, it was the Jamil Hussein case, a months-long brawl with AP arising from a report by a stringer about attacks on mosques. Before that, it was reports from Lebanon of ambulances being hit by Israeli fire. And so on.[fn1] There’s too much of this to try and give comprehensive coverage, and I’m not interested in debating the details, but a search on Instapundit will usually get you started.

The Beauchamp case fits the general pattern pretty well. First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq. Then, when it became evident he was a real person, they rolled out the slime machine to discredit him. Then they engaged in amateur forensics to discredit particular items in his account (acres of screen space have been devoted to the question of whether the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle can run over a dog). Then they got to the central point – true or false, material like this is bad for the cause and shouldn’t be printed.

All of this, of course, is an attempt to replicate the one undoubted triumph of the blogospheric right, Rathergate. For those who somehow missed it, Dan Rather and CBS fooled by a bogus memo purportedly from Bush’s National Guard commander, and Rather eventually lost his job as a result.

As I said, I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?

[click to continue…]

The Last Typing Wife

by Kieran Healy on July 29, 2007

Question: what is the latest — i.e., most recent — example you know of an academic’s first book where, in the acknowledgments, the author thanks his wife (or some other person’s wife, as in “the redoubtable Mrs Elizabeth Arbuthnot”) for typing and retyping the manuscript with great patience, forbearance, accuracy, and so on? The acknowledgments to academic books are a mini-institution with pretty clear rules that change only slowly over time and show a high degree of homogeneity, particularly for first books. Up until a certain point, the endlessly patient and also busily typing wife was a fixture in them. But no longer. How precisely, I wonder, can her extinction be dated?

My hypotheses are: (1) The typing wife disappeared earlier than the typing employee, but (1a), The typing employee has also now disappeared. (2) Things must have been in decline for a long time (typewriters are not exactly a new technology, and then women started going to graduate school on their own account), but the big drop-off comes some time in the 1980s, as cheap computers and word-processors arrive. I suspect specimens continued to appear into the 1990s, however. (3) The typing wife may have disappeared from acknowledgments faster than actual wives doing actual typing disappeared in practice. (4) I expect variance across fields due mostly for reasons of technological affinity. But I’m not sure how fine-grained this is.

As evidence for (2), as an undergraduate in 1993 not in possession of a computer, and not lucky enough to be attending a university with any decent computing facilities, I along with almost all others hand-wrote all my essays and regular coursework. But it was a requirement of both my honours theses that they be typed, so I had to marry pay someone to do that. The following year, though, I had saved up and bought a powerbook and typed my MA paper myself. So it seems reasonable to think that academic books published around this time might still have phantom typists working away – though maybe by then it was people who took a typewritten manuscript and retyped it on a wordprocessor. But I want specific examples. So the main question is, in whose set of acknowledgments is the most recent typing wife to be found?