Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

12/29/2010 (12:04 pm)

PIPA is At It Again

For the past 7 years or so, conservatives have had to tolerate liberals, Progressives, and assorted pseudo-intellectuals informing them superciliously that it had been “proved” by “research” that Fox News viewers were badly misinformed about current issues. They were usually referring to a horribly-constructed bit of research produced by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland that examined responses to three questions about the run-up to the Iraq war. Somehow, to the left, this proved that Fox was misinforming its viewers about all subjects — and that’s leaving aside glaring concerns about the construction of the questions, and about the utter absence of any attempt to correlate private, personal opinions to particular news reports (I mentioned the report and its flaws briefly here.)

Well, they’re at it again. PIPA, which in the interim has recast itself as World Public Opinion.org, recently produced another amusing bit of research purporting to prove, using more current policy questions, that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news viewers. The actual study can be read here, if you want a lesson in how not to perform genuine research.

The title is a masterpiece of studied neutrality: Misinformation and the 2010 Election. So far, so good. A lot of us have noted the role played by the press in keeping voters ill-informed. It’s a worthwhile topic for research. Funny, though, that they didn’t run this after the 2008 election; I guess these Objective Scholars® considered voting for Obama a well-informed choice, and considered that misinformation is only evident when voters elect Republicans. Examining the minds of Obama voters was left to conservative partisans like John Ziegler, who, in fact, did a much better job of demonstrating that the voters were misinformed than PIPA does here (and Obama voters were the most misinformed of all — but nobody was particularly well-informed). Of course, Ziegler used genuine polling organizations like Zogby and Wilson Research, and there was no disputing the factual nature of his questions. He also did not attempt to blame any particular network, which is a fool’s errand. PIPA, take note.

Why the focus on Fox News? The study introduces itself with a concern about the impact of “corporate funding” on elections in the wake of the Citizens United case, which I wrote about last February. This is a particular concern of Progressives, who went insane predicting a flood of corporate money devastating politics in America (which in fact never materialized,) but not a concern of anybody else. So we know from the start that the researchers are Progressives, and we all know how Progressives feel about Fox. This explains why PIPA is interested in a question like “Are Fox News viewers misinformed” rather than a more neutral question like, say, “Which news reports are more accurate?” Of course, they shrouded their focus on Fox in objective-sounding phrases, but the focus was plainly on Fox.

Be that as it may, the study is a laugh riot of methodological blunders.

In the first place, the study defines “truth” as “agreement with the public statements of a particular government agency.” For example, if you disagree with the Congressional Budget Office in their assessment of the effect of the stimulus, then you are, by this definition, misinformed. That example is particularly egregious: the CBO assessed the effect of the stimulus, not by examining actual results, but by running an economic model using the number of stimulus dollars as input, and applying Keynesian multipliers. In short, if you think the CBO’s model is not a good model, you are misinformed — by definition.

This is genuinely funny. Liberals fancy themselves to be the reservoir of intellectual resistance to the government in America. But as of today, liberals claim that if you disagree with the government, you are wrong, by simple definition. Big Brother knows best. Who knew they’d changed sides?

Next, several questions asked people to opine about what “most economists” think. The study defines “most economists” as “the economists who happen to work for the government agency we chose as our source.” No polling of economists was performed, nor were any such polls consulted. So we know before we start that the study’s “correct” answers to questions involving opinions about what “most economists” think are completely unreliable. They really have not the slightest idea what “most economists” think.

And what is it that people are asked about what these gods of economics think? That’s pretty interesting, too: they’re asked, among other things, whether more economists think the health care reform law will increase the deficit, more think it will reduce the deficit, or whether their views are evenly divided. Or, whether more economists think the economy is getting better or getting worse.

My reaction to that is “What kind of idiot decides where they stand by polling economists to find out which view has 60% support? Who the &@#! cares what ‘most economists’ think?” Why aren’t we examining the actual effects of such laws in other countries, or in various states where they’ve been attempted? Why not examine the history of predictions made by politicians advocating various spending programs (which almost invariably understate costs and overstate revenues?)

But no, to PIPA what matters is whether people know which way the wind was blowing among economists — meaning, of course, which way the particular economists were leaning who were working for the particular branch of the Obama administration they chose by whatever means. And they chose objectively, of course.

How very revealing that these Progressives think truth is determined by agreeing with people they consider important! One scales the heights of intellectual mountains by following the academic herd? Really?

I’m reminded of a wry comment about experts made by John Meier in his analysis of the life of Jesus, A Marginal Jew:

Nothing ages faster than relevance. The “cutting edge” of scholarship at any given moment often turns out to be the sharp cliff of Gerasa, off of which academic lemmings keep hurling themselves.

Choosing sides by polling experts is not always such a good idea.

But here is what I consider the crowning deficiency: the study purports to examine whether a news agency misinforms its viewers — without examining a single news report.

How does that work? The questions about what news source respondents viewed don’t sum to 100%, because most people view multiple sources of news — Fox, CBS, newspapers, various Internet sites, etc. The study does not even include most news purveyors, and makes no attempt to identify which of the various sources it does include was the source of the “misinformation.” Using this method it’s not possible to determine which, or whether any, news organization misinformed anybody.

Ultimately, all the study demonstrates is which set of voters was more likely to agree with the current administration’s talking points. For some reason, I don’t consider that a useful test of accuracy, nor does the failure to swallow ObamaCrap® fill me with foreboding about the future of the republic. Call me picky.

Nobody who knows the first thing about social science research can take this “study” seriously. It’s not a study, it’s a paid, partisan hit piece. The fact that so many liberals accept it uncritically and repeat it as fact, constitutes proof that they’re either not capable of critical thinking, or not willing to engage in it when the target is conservative. The fact that PIPA and other progressive-leaning think tanks continue to produce such transparently nonsensical “research”, constitutes proof that the manipulators of the liberal herd know how to move the cows.

11/08/2010 (1:51 pm)

Climate Alarmists Rise For Battle

The Chicago Tribune’s Washington Bureau correspondent, Neela Banerjee, ran a piece in the Tribune’s Nation section today that began with the following, instructive bit of propaganda:

Climate scientists plan campaign against global warming skeptics

Faced with rising political attacks, hundreds of climate scientists are joining a broad campaign to push back against congressional conservatives who have threatened prominent researchers with investigations and vowed to kill regulations to rein in man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The still-evolving efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics, some of whom gained new power after the Republicans won control of the House in Tuesday’s election.

On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, the country’s largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution.

John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate change skeptics, is also pulling together a “climate rapid response team,” which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk radio and television shows.

Notice the roles cast for the players by the author. The subject group is “climate scientists.” The object of their activism is “global warming skeptics.” These “scientists” are faced with “rising political attacks.” “Prominent researchers” are threatened with investigations. There’s a shift afoot among “climate scientists, “many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media.” She even names an organization, the American Geophysical Union, which has plans to announce that 700 “climate scientists” have agreed to speak out as “experts.”

This is a propaganda piece attempting to revive the public’s concern over climate change by puffing air into the activism of habitual climate alarmists. The author is an activist trying to create the appearance of a movement. The real news story here is that a mechanical engineering professor from Minnesota is organizing a speaker’s bureau to try to talk down conservative audiences. This is hardly news.

While some of the participants here are, in fact, climate scientists, they are not the ones who have been reluctant to engage the public. Indeed, the charge most aptly arising from last December’s “Climategate” scandal was that several of the most prominent scientists in the alarmist camp were biased politically and were attempting to promote their political aims by manipulating data, skewing peer review, and bullying opponents. When, at the end of the article, the author gets to naming a few of the intrepid scientists who are now uncharacteristically marching forth to brave the slings and arrows of outrageous conservatives, we’re told that Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will lead the charge, along with Richard Feely of NOAA and Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton. Trenberth, one of those dishonorably named in the Climategate affair, and Oppenheimer were both lead authors on more than one IPCC report and have been active in promoting climate alarmism for years, while Feely has been active in promoting the scare over ocean acidification. Some “shift.”

Next, the author attempts to make you think that all climate scientists agree to this activism by name-dropping the American Geophysical Union (AGU) as the “country’s largest association of climate scientists.” This particular attempt constitutes journalistic malpractice. The AGU does not specialize in climate science; this is misleading. The organization has announced nothing to date, it simply “plans to announce;” and the plans are not sourced by the author. The author, in effect, is creating a ghost army. Notice, in the article, how the entire American Geophysical Union becomes 700 scientists, then shrinks to 39 Special Forces skeptic-refuters, and finally gets named as three special scientists to engage the public. One wonders exactly which box on what survey those 700 AGU members checked in order to be included in this statistic, and whether they know they’ve been named as willing activists in an unprecedented political putsch. Nor would 700 AGU members constitute as large or authoritative a number as it’s represented to be; the AGU boasts some 58,000 members, and they represent all scientific disciplines, not just climate science.

Likewise, John Abraham of St. Thomas University, named in the article as the organizer of a “rapid response team,” is not specifically a climate scientist, either. He’s a mechanical engineer. That does not mean he is not competent to understand climate science, mind you; it’s just that the alarmists invariably sniff at skeptical scientists whose degrees lack the specific “climate” label. I’m returning the favor, and noting that they know perfectly well that disciplines apart from “climate scientist” are competent to comment on the topic.

The article warns of threatened investigations of “prominent scientists.” If you read further in the article, what’s actually been threatened is an investigation of the activism of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has attempted to implement cap-and-trade and central economic planning without the approval of Congress. Recall my article from 2008 discussing their announced plans. If, in fact, this has been accomplished based on deliberately manipulated data, it would constitute the largest attempted power grab in the history of the nation, something along the lines of a political coup. I can’t imagine a responsible citizen not demanding an investigation of such an attempt.

The author of the piece attempts to deflect the Climategate affair as a non-issue by sniffing at it dishonestly:

Climate change skeptics argued that the sniping in some e-mails showed that scientists suppressed research by skeptics and manipulated data. Five independent panels subsequently cleared the researchers involved and validated the science.

This, again, constitutes journalistic malpractice. It’s far from just skeptics who were incensed at the contents of the emails. What was being complained about was a great deal more serious than mere “sniping,” and generated investigations of possible criminal activity. Most importantly, no panel anywhere has discovered that the science was accurate. Some panels have concluded that no crimes were committed, which is a very different thing. And I’m really curious: since the scurrilous behavior uncovered in the emails included systematic attempts to rig professional panels with co-belligerents who would look kindly on the works of alarmists and not critique their work severely, what measures did these “five independent panels” put in place to guarantee to the public that these were not just another series of rigged juries? Indeed, the review of Prof. Michael Mann’s hockey stick high-jinks by his superiors at Penn State (Michael, as in “Mike’s Nature trick”) consisted of nothing more than reviewing a collection of emails hand-selected and submitted by the defendant himself!

The article constitutes political activism dressed as journalism, to cover political activism dressed as research. Dressing up political activism as something more authoritative is the primary tactic of the progressive movement, which has been using science as its sock puppet to change the culture for at least sixty years. Do not be fooled, and do not relax your guard; they’re aiming to steal your liberty.

Postscript: In a move that indicates the genuine shift that is taking place, the Chicago Carbon Exchange, established in November 2000 solely for the purpose of trading carbon emissions credits, announced on October 21 of this year that they will cease operations this year. The event passed without media notice of any significant sort.

09/29/2010 (1:48 pm)

Hollywood Hates Capitalism

We’ve known this for years, but it’s helpful to have a brief, professional vid point out just how pervasive is the fallacious message that economic liberty is nothing but greed. This is 90 seconds well spent. Enjoy.

My only objection is that genuine economic liberty has nothing whatsoever to do with greed. “Greed” is defined as self-interest to the immoral extreme, an excessive or rapacious desire. Nothing in the ordinary practice of economic freedom requires or even briefly condones rapacious or extreme desire; those things are destructive, and everybody knows it. The pursuit of self-interest is normal, healthy, and most emphatically is not greed.

I came across a useful illustration in a radio interview with Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem. This is based on Richards’ actual experience watching an elementary school teacher illustrating free markets to her students. Pay attention, class:

The teacher brings out a basket of toys, just enough for everyone in the classroom to get a toy. She hands them out arbitrarily. Then, she asks each of the students to grade their toy, A through F. When they’ve all graded their toys, she does a quick computation to arrive at a class grade for the toys: C-.

Then, she announces that for the next two minutes, members of the class may trade their toys with anybody in the same row. A little confusion follows, after which a large number of the students in the class have exchanged their toys with somebody else. She then allows the students to grade their toys again, and computes the class average again: B-.

Finally, she announces that for the next five minutes, they may trade their toys with anybody in the entire class. Pandemonium erupts, but when she blows a whistle to get their attention after 5 minutes of free market capitalism, and gathers up the grades again, the value of the toys has risen to a solid A.

What we’re watching is wealth creation. The toys don’t change; you have the same set of toys at the end as you had at the beginning. But the perceived value of the toys has increased dramatically, so that nearly everybody ends up better off.

So, where was greed in that classroom? Every transaction in that classroom was made voluntarily; both sides of every transaction felt that they were increasing their wealth by trading, or the trade did not take place. If somebody had coveted a toy they could not obtain by trading, and had attempted to coerce somebody into giving it to them, or trick them into it — that would be greed in action. And, of course, the teacher was there to make sure that did not happen. Greed is the part of the system that is forbidden by law, as our video suggested. What was going on apart from that was ordinary self-interest, and when that’s allowed to take place without interference, it results in increased wealth for everybody, even when there’s no increase in the raw components of the system.

We need to stop paying money to let the Marxist/Leninists tell us how awful it is that we’ve created enough wealth to raise a couple of billion people out of poverty in the last century and a half. They’re lying to us. Put your money into shows that portray the productive genius of individual liberty, like Iron Man II, or The Incredibles.