The one per cent doctrine

by Chris Bertram on April 5, 2008

Jeremy Waldron has a great piece in the latest LRB reviewing a recent book by Cass Sunstein. He has a nice discussion of the Cheney doctrine that even a one-percent probability of a catastrophic event should be treated as a certainty for policy purposes, where the class of catastrophic events is limited to those with a military, security or terrorist dimension. Reasoning like this interacts neatly with “ticking-bomb” scenarios: now a 1 per cent chance that the there’s a ticking bomb the terrorist knows about is sufficient in to justify waterboarding or worse. Of course other potentially catastrophic developments — such as climate change — haven’t generated a “treat as if certain” policy response from the US government, even thought even the most determined denialists must evaluate the probability that anthropogenic global warming is happening at greater than one in a hundred.

Waldron is also pretty acid about Sunstein’s treatment of global warming and distributive justice, noting some of the shortcomings of the idea that poor people’s lives should be valued according to what they’re prepared to pay to avoid the risk of death. But read the whole thing, as they say.

Annals of Improbable Research

by Henry on April 5, 2008

“Forthcoming”: from James Fowler in _PS: Political Science and Politics_

Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, claims that politicians who appear on his show will become more popular and are more likely to win elections. Although online discussions cite anecdotal evidence in support of his claim, it has never been scrutinized scientifically. In this article I use “facts” (sorry, Stephen) provided by the Federal Election Commission to create a matched control group of candidates who have never appeared on The Colbert Report. I then compare the personal campaign donations they receive to those received by candidates who have appeared on the program’s segment “Better Know a District.” The results show that Democratic candidates who appear on the Report receive a statistically significant “Colbert bump” in campaign donations, raising 44% more money in a 30-day period after appearing on the show. However, there is no evidence of a similar boost for Republicans. These results constitute the first scientific evidence of Stephen Colbert’s influence on political campaigns.