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Contra NYT On Economists On Education

[epistemic status: still having a hard time believing I am right about this, but have double-checked. Tell me if I’m missing something. Correction: I previously left the word “Generally” out of the title by accident. I have slightly softened a claim about ‘journalistic malpractice’ based on many people apparently finding the phrasing less misleading than I do.]

From today’s New York Times: Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It:

The odds are good that privatizing education will be part of the agenda for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration. […] You might think that most economists agree with this overall approach, because economists generally like free markets. For example, over 90 percent of the members of the University of Chicago’s panel of leading economists thought that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft made consumers better off by providing competition for the highly regulated taxi industry.

But economists are far less optimistic about what an unfettered market can achieve in education. Only a third of economists on the Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice.

While economists are trained about the value of free markets, they are also trained to spot when markets can’t work alone and government intervention is required.

This is followed by a long discussion of market failures and externalities, with the implication that this is the sort of knowledge that economists are using to come to their anti-voucher views.

But look at the NYT’s source for its claim about economists:

36% of economists agree that vouchers would improve education, compared to 19% who disagree. The rest are unsure or didn’t answer the question. The picture looks about the same when weighted by the economists’ confidence.

A more accurate way to summarize this graph is “About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t.”

By leaving it at “only a third of economists support vouchers”, the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy. Heck, it more than implies it – its title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It”. But its own source suggests that, of economists who have an opinion, a large majority are pro-voucher.

(note also that the options are only “agree that vouchers will improve education” and “disagree that vouchers will improve education”, so that it’s unclear from the data if any dissenting economists agree with the Times’ position that vouchers will make things worse. They might just think that things would stay the same.)

I think this is really poor journalistic practice and implies the opinion of the nation’s economists to be the opposite of what it really is. I hope the Times prints a correction.

[see follow-up post here]

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338 Responses to Contra NYT On Economists On Education

  1. doubleunplussed says:

    This must be some of that Fake News™ we’ve been hearing big players like the NYT complaining about recently.

    Recent quote from Glenn Greenwald:

    THE PEOPLE WHO should be most upset by this deceit are exactly the ones who played the leading role in spreading it: namely, those who most vocally claim that Fake News is a serious menace. Nothing will discredit that cause faster or more effectively than the perception that this crusade is really about a selective desire to suppress news that undermines one’s political agenda, masquerading as concern for journalistic accuracy and integrity. Yet, as I’ve repeatedly documented, the very same people most vocal about the need to suppress Fake News are often those most eager to disseminate it when doing so advances their agenda.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I am hereby banning the phrase “fake news” as I think it’s inherently equivocating and culture-war-provoking.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Sure. But I think the media’s ability to get away with lying blatantly in some contexts and not in others is inherently culture-war-y. It seems like a “no bad tactics, only bad targets” type of situation.

        But it’s also related to something I think you said in some old blog post about statistics – we’ve made it acceptable to lie using numbers, by misinterpreting them (however maliciously), but it’s not acceptable to just make them up entirely. So that seems like a difference between this and the helicopter incident as well, at least in the minds of people who might judge them for it.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I worry that “fake news” conflates spinning true facts in a misleading way with completely making things up, and that this conflation is more likely to normalize making things up (“Hey, we’re no worse than the New York Times”) than it is to make people demand less biased reporting.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            I think it deliberately conflates them. It can be used as a motte and bailey – the motte is “don’t make up completely fake stuff”, and the bailey is “keep trusting the mainstream media, nobody else is trustworthy, any small misdeed by non-mainstream sites is enough to write them off as non-trustworthy”.

            But then when you call them out on it, they’ll retreat and be like “oh, no, we’re not hypocrites, we were only talking about making stuff up entirely”

            So I’d rather nobody have this weapon.

            Edit: I suppose banning it is one way to achieve that at least here.

          • Horkthane says:

            So, stupid question…

            Is there really a difference between making something up out of whole cloth, and taking a source, and claiming it says the literal opposite of what it actually says? How can you really say one is a worse form of lying than the other? Or that one is a more complete and total form of lying than the other?

            At the end of the day, they are both still lies. And given how easily you can trace the bias implicit in them, they clearly weren’t accidental either. Show me the article where Fox News incorrectly summarizes a government report in a way that’s favorable to Obama, or where CNN misquotes a government official making Trump look better.

            At the end of the day, they are both still lying to push a world view that isn’t accurate. I’m not sure there is a moral difference in being able to trace a seed of something that might almost stand as a fact in the absence of all other context.

          • sliceoftime says:

            And reporting by omission. Reporting selective parts of the truth is a great way to craft the truthiness of your choice. You can say you made up nothing while you magically made up a whole new thing.

          • onyomi says:

            @Horkthane and Sliceoftime

            I agree, but would add that, to the extent this is a problem (and I think it is), I think it is a general problem with humanity, and not unique to politics, or even, necessarily, uniquely bad in the realm of politics.

            That is, there are many situations in which it is useful to lie to oneself and/or to others. But all ethical systems I know of say lying is bad. The quickest way around this is to use literal truths deceptively, and in some cases people may not even realize they’re doing it (the fact that it always works in their favor can be explained by the desire to avoid cognitive/values dissonance).

            This is also one reason I always argue against the idea of non-central fallacy as “worst argument ever.” People seem to feel that non-central examples of lying are somehow less bad than central examples of lying. But I see no reason to think they are (or else suggest updating our value systems such that “deception” is the primary sin, and lying by using false facts just one method for achieving that).

          • Matt M says:

            “And given how easily you can trace the bias implicit in them, they clearly weren’t accidental either. Show me the article where Fox News incorrectly summarizes a government report in a way that’s favorable to Obama, or where CNN misquotes a government official making Trump look better.”

            I think this situation has given rise not only to a general mistrust of the media (which has manifested itself as a rise of “non-real news”), but also a general mistrust of anything spun as a scientific study.

            Because you know that virtually every media source can and will twist the facts of things to suit their narratives, and the only way most people find out about science is through a media summary of it, they don’t trust the science.

          • Horkthane says:

            @onyomi

            If I were to guess about why people view central lying as worse than non-central lying, it would be that people seem to think non-central lying gives the victim a sporting chance. They might be able to check sources for themselves. Or parse the raw data personally, if they have the expertise to. There is a vague sense that it might just be the victims own dumb fault for taking a known deceiver at their word, especially when the deceiver gave them an “obvious” tell.

            But to me a lie is a lie is a lie. Whether it’s a lie of omission, a lie of context, or just your old fashioned completely made it up lie.

          • Which is more dangerous–a flat lie, or an article designed to imply the opposite of the truth? I think it’s at least arguable that the latter is more dangerous, since it’s harder to detect.

            I’m thinking of real examples in two different contexts, both of which I labeled on my blog as how to lie while telling the truth:

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2015/04/how-to-lie-while-telling-truth.html

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2015/12/how-to-lie-while-telling-truth-part-ii.html

          • sliceoftime says:

            http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html
            More troubling is that people have selectively developed a deep distrust of the other side’s media contrasted with a unnaturally fervent trust for their own team’s media as their truth savior. The only substantive outcome is a deep polarization and more news distortion .. plus it’s really annoying to have to suspiciously eye every piece of news to figure out what is true and what is not. But I guess this polarization is the collateral carnage for the noble survival of big news. :-/

          • suntzuanime says:

            Hey, that’s the essay that almost killed me. Pro tip: identities are healthy and human beings need them.

          • Dabbler says:

            suntzuanime- Almost killed you? As somebody who is trying to make up my mind on questions of identity lately, I’d be curious to hear your views on the subject if that’s alright.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            That’s why I think we should be encouraging identities like gamer, trackie, or beibler for a non geeky example.

            If we focus our identities on pop-culture instead of politics and religion then hopefully politics could become a tiny bit less awful.

          • @Scott: I don’t know if you saw my post about this a couple of comment sections back, but it’s worth noting that “spin” can go very far and be incredibly destructive. I am not at all sure the distinction between “made up” and “has spin” is always meaningful. Purely on instinct, I would agree with your statement, but there is definitely an awful greyzone where spin ends up being just as misleading as lies. Since I’ve witnessed that awful greyzone in all cases when newspapers reported on things I was personally involved in (this is not a big sample size, just two 2), that’s made it difficult for me to trust anything they report.

            I admit I don’t know what that means for the press, or what they would have to do to fix the problem, or what would make media consumption less hazardous as a reader. In that, my plea isn’t very actionable (and that does bug me).

            To me it looks like ‘telling the truth in a way that’s indistinguishable from making things up’ is already normalised (I certainly don’t dare assume otherwise), and I’m not sure directly making things up would make the situation worse.

            [ Edit: I should probably add that I have no strong feelings about the use of the phrase you banned specifically for the article you mentioned. The article doesn’t strike me as particularly dishonest (other commenters have made IMO good observations as to why), so the term is probably not applicable here. I just think that in general the term refers to something worth talking about and would prefer if it weren’t banned. ]

          • JimmysPotatoSalad says:

            Hey, that’s the essay that almost killed me. Pro tip: identities are healthy and human beings need them.

            Lest someone be worried that Paul Graham’s identity essay is some sort of dangerous cognitohazard, I’d like to chime in to say that essay was very influential in making me a happier and more tolerant person.

            Maybe this is just one of those cases where different people need opposite advice. I hope you are doing well now, Suntzuanime.

          • brentdax says:

            Is there really a difference between making something up out of whole cloth, and taking a source, and claiming it says the literal opposite of what it actually says? How can you really say one is a worse form of lying than the other? Or that one is a more complete and total form of lying than the other?

            I don’t think it’s that it’s worse, so much as that it’s more clear-cut.

            To deliberately dance in a minefield, it’s a little bit like rape. Raping someone by threatening them with a knife and raping someone by deliberately getting them too drunk to consent are both evil, but using a knife is a dead giveaway of the aggressor’s criminal intent, whereas using alcohol is difficult to distinguish from ordinary party behavior that happens without anyone intending to commit a crime.

            Similarly, reporters who make up facts and reporters who deliberately skew interpretations are both committing malpractice, but making up facts is a dead giveaway of malpractice, whereas skewing interpretations is difficult to distinguish from ordinary misunderstanding and bias that happens without anyone intending to mislead the public.

            It’s not that the effect is worse; it’s that the bad behavior is more blatant.

          • onyomi says:

            “It’s not that the effect is worse; it’s that the bad behavior is more blatant.”

            Except, in this case, it’s not clear the intent to deceive was worse on the part of the Pizzagaters than the NYT.

            So far as I can tell, the Pizzagate people genuinely believed the strange tale they were spinning, as e. g. people skeptical of the moon landing and vaccines probably mostly genuinely believe the strange conclusions the “evidence” leads them to.

            With the NYT, by contrast, these are professional journalists who had to do some interpretation of numbers and they just conveniently came up with the framing which deceptively supported the conclusion they wanted to begin with.

            I think a better comparison than a violent rapist and roofie rapist would be a stupid layman who files a frivolous lawsuit which is obviously without merit, though maybe he doesn’t know that, and a professional lawyer who files a frivolous lawsuit which he should know is without merit, but which he has slickly presented in a way which makes it seem superficially reasonable.

          • Matt M says:

            “So far as I can tell, the Pizzagate people genuinely believed the strange tale they were spinning, as e. g. people skeptical of the moon landing and vaccines probably mostly genuinely believe the strange conclusions the “evidence” leads them to.”

            I’d just like to say that I think the opposite here. My personal guess would be that 95% of people who claim to believe pizzagate are essentially trolling. That trust in our political and media institutions is SO low (for obvious reasons) that people just want to poke them and upset them a bit. I’d imagine that most people taking surveys intuitively know that the “right” answer is “No, pizzagate is completely ridiculous and obviously made up,” so they answer the opposite of that – out of little more than pure spite for the established system.

            Personally, I don’t believe in pizzagate at all, but if I somehow got tricked into taking a public opinion survey, I would probably say I did – just to fuck with the heads of people at the NYT. I would probably give “wrong” answers to any ridiculous question they gave me: Is Hillary the anti-christ? Yes. Was the moon landing fake? Yes. Did Bush do 9/11 to cover up the fact that the government invented AIDS to kill black people? Yes. Have fun with all that, Gallup.

          • Brad says:

            With the NYT, by contrast, these are professional journalists who had to do some interpretation of numbers and they just conveniently came up with the framing which deceptively supported the conclusion they wanted to begin with.

            You mean an outside economist who contributed to a section of the paper that takes external submissions, right?

          • brentdax says:

            (Sorry if we end up with a duplicate—first draft seems to have been lost.)

            Except, in this case, it’s not clear the intent to deceive was worse on the part of the Pizzagaters than the NYT.

            What makes Pizzagate “this case”? Yours is the first mention of it in this subthread.

            I’m talking about the original meaning of the term in question (original to seven weeks ago, not six weeks ago): Macedonian click farmers making up stories from whole cloth to draw traffic. Conspiracy theories invented and earnestly believed by the idiots on r/conspiracy are a distinct phenomenon which was quickly swept under the same term’s heading, but ought not to have been; that was the first step towards the term’s incredibly fast decline into complete meaninglessness.

            Another reason not to use that term is that it’s just so vague. “Confabulated clickbait”, “conspiracy theory”, “partisan reporting”, and “out-of-mainstream sourcing” are all separate phenomena which ought to be treated separately. Grouping them together is not useful.

      • Timothy says:

        I know I’ve been widely using the phrase in an endeavor to do my part to render it equivocal and tired, stifling the whole meme in the cradle before its creators can properly put it to use.

        So everything seems to be going according to plan.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Yeah, I think pushback is really important on this. There’s people out there who would be perfectly happy to crown themselves arbiters of reality, and they are not fit for the job. We already see this with groups like Politifact and whatnot, but the http://pastebin.com/rKsDmJ2N push is them trying to take it to a whole new level. So it’s important for free-thinking people to mock their pretensions.

      • Silder says:

        Good for banning that phrase – it started off as a healthy way of classifying non-NY Times approved news as illegitimate but for some reason right wing culture warriors have re-purposed the phrase to mean something like “distortions from the Establishment press that aren’t even lies (just untrue and intentionally misleading)”. It’s like they don’t even appreciate the difference between the NY Times publishing technically true statements and simply lying and saying that the journalist opposes a freer market in education.

        Look at the differences! The first one makes a technically true statement – and more importantly – appeals to expert authority. Expert authority. The second one makes it seem like the official position is opposition the policy in question – when nothing could be further from the truth. The official position is always based on science and expertise.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        That’s kind of a shame.

        The term, and it’s unintended backfiring on those who coined it, is funny exactly because it points at a real phenomenon. You can plainly see how spectacularly wrong the news is whenever it touches a topic near and dear to you (really, whenever you’re paying attention). Yet the news media presents itself as, and is accepted as, an authority on matters of fact.

        Whether you want to blame the routine failure of the news media on incentive problems on the business side or ideological cliques, it’s pretty telling that their products are often indistinguishable from the work of professional satirists and Macedonian click-farmers. Pointing that reality out is important, if not to push for reform at least to ward off Gell-Mann Amnesia.

        • Deiseach says:

          I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified that I live in a time where “Macedonian click-farmer” is (so far) a viable career. Your grandfather farmed cabbages, your father farmed sheep, you farm clicks. Ah, the wonders of progress! Presumably in years to come, this will be known as the traditional music of the humble click-farmer toiling over their computer 🙂

        • The Nybbler says:

          You can plainly see how spectacularly wrong the news is whenever it touches a topic near and dear to you (really, whenever you’re paying attention). Yet the news media presents itself as, and is accepted as, an authority on matters of fact.

          This is the Gell-Mann amnesia effect, a term coined by Michael Crichton in 2002. One of its corollaries is that any time anyone on the internet describes it, someone must chime in to label it.

      • suntzuanime says:

        In an article about school vouchers and the NYT being full of shit? Nothing to provoke, the culture bullets are already flying.

      • Deiseach says:

        By this stage, I have no idea what the term is even supposed to refer to, since I’ve seen it used for so many different things. I think it morphed very fast into “stuff we don’t like/we can use to bash the other side” usage by everyone.

    • codingmonkey says:

      Are you saying this and Pizzagate are pretty much the same thing? Not sure your point.

      • Matt M says:

        This is worse than Pizzagate, actually.

        The worst you can say about pizzagate is that there is no evidence for it. In this case, the NYT is making a claim that the evidence actually contradicts.

        • codingmonkey says:

          Are you saying 1/3 of economists is a majority of economists? Again a point is made that I do not understand.

          • eh says:

            I think he’s saying that the NYT article gives the impression that two-thirds of economists think vouchers are bad, which very nearly the opposite of the impression that you get from reading their source.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I think he’s saying that the NYT article gives the impression

            There’s an easy way to settle this. We just issue a survey of people, asking them to read this article and report on their impressions concerning the opinions of economists. I’d say that we should also have a sample group that is given the source data, but who has time for that? I’m sure we’ll all be perfectly rational once we have that data.

          • codingmonkey says:

            It appears “Generally Don’t Buy It” is a much stronger statement than I realized. I kind of thought it meant that less than half would agree on something. Now I am not at all sure what it could mean but it is apparently a very bad thing.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          This is worse than Pizzagate, actually.

          This is pretty insane. On the one hand, we have an article in the New York Times’s sort-of-news-sort-of-opinion section which summarized data in a way which is arguably misleading. On the other, we have a ludicrous conspiracy theory falsely accusing dozens of democratic political figures of satanic child abuse, a conspiracy theory which has now secured uptake with around half of republicans. That you think there is a even a comparison between the two suggests a mind blighted by delusion.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I was with you up through the ludicrous conspiracy theory part, but I doubt you’ve actually confirmed it false. Of which we cannot speak let us be silent.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’ve reviewed the purported evidence for the pizzagate conspiracy theories, and can confirm that it looks like the ravings of a lunatic. We also have independent reason to think that accusations involving satanic pedophilia rings are antecedently unlikely to be true.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, you’re making a judgment on the priors, which is reasonable, but it’s different from a judgment on the facts. I can’t confidently say that any particular random person isn’t a member of a secret pedophile ring; there have been such rings. And the fact that deranged internet people are accusing you of being such doesn’t actually make it less likely. So lets stick to things like “implausible”, “ridiculous”, “deranged”. I know the Narrative wants to act like it’s been actually proven false, but it hasn’t, and that’s a dissonant chord when you talk.

            It sort of reminds me of the bit about “evil slaveowner Leonardo DiCaprio” in http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2013/01/no_self-respecting_woman_would.html . You’re saying you don’t believe this ludicrous conspiracy theory is accurate? Thanks for clarifying.

          • nydwracu says:

            We also have independent reason to think that accusations involving satanic pedophilia rings are antecedently unlikely to be true.

            We also have independent reason to think that accusations involving elite pedophilia rings are likely to be true — for example, the elite pedophilia ring centered around Jeffrey Epstein, and the coverup of the Sandusky case.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ suntzuanime

            I can’t confidently say that any particular random person isn’t a member of a secret pedophile ring

            Yes, in fact, you can, because pedophilia (or, more accurately here, serial sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children not part of the offender’s family) is rare, and pedophile rings rarer still.

            And the fact that deranged internet people are accusing you of being such doesn’t actually make it less likely.

            Actually, if paranoid loonies sift thoroughly through someone’s internet presence, and all they turn up are some questionable tastes in modern art, this is decent (though not, of course, decisive) evidence that the individual is not the mastermind of a vast criminal conspiracy.

            I know the Narrative wants to act like it’s been actually proven false, but it hasn’t, and that’s a dissonant chord when you talk.

            I say that the accusations are false to contrast them with the NYT piece, which is merely misleading. I did not say “proven” because the word is slippery and I know it’s liable to prompt demands for a geometrical demonstration. It is enough that (a) pedophile rings are rare to begin with, (b) the accusations are prima facie bogus, (c) local police have determined that they are meritless, (d) every credible media outlet which has investigated the charges, including unsympathetic sources like Fox News and the Washington Times, has found nothing to substantiate them.

            @nydwracu

            We also have independent reason to think that accusations involving elite pedophilia rings are likely to be true — for example, the elite pedophilia ring centered around Jeffrey Epstein, and the coverup of the Sandusky case.

            As far as I know, there’s no real evidence that Sandusky operated any sort of ring. Distinguish, please, between genuine pedophile rings and pedophiles acting alone who prevail on their friends and coworkers not to report their suspicious behavior.

          • Deiseach says:

            Earthly Knight, suppose I sourced a news story that said “Only one-third of statisticians say Obamacare is working”. I do not think it would be unreasonable for a reader to think that means the other two-thirds think it is not working, hence it is a bad thing.

            But if you then dig into the figures and find out “Okay, 34% say it’s working, 25% say it’s working but not as well as expected, 15% say it’s too early to judge, 14% say it’s working in some areas but not in others, 6% have no opinion” – would you then say “two-thirds think it’s not working so it’s bad”?

            Would you say “that article summarized data in a way which is arguably misleading but it doesn’t matter because it was only an editorial”?

            I’m not asking for one side to be privileged over another, I am asking for equal treatment of data; if it would present a false view of something you care about to have the scales tilted in such a manner, then please don’t belittle those who hold views you don’t care about with “you’re only making a mountain out of a molehill”.

            For the record, not that it should matter, I don’t think vouchers are particularly a great idea or will make a huge difference, but I do think if people want to try them they should be given the chance, and this kind of “don’t even ask for vouchers, we have Experts to say They Don’t Work” journalism is not about ‘we report the plain facts and let you make up your mind’, it’s pushing a party line.

            I think the point about Pizzagate was that it was so ludicrous, you really would have to be far out in the weeds to believe it could possibly be true. Only the very motivated to think the worst and use it as propaganda could believe it.

            Your rebuttal of paedophilia being very rare, there not being rings, etc. makes me smile wryly. I’m Catholic. I’ve seen the revelations about child sexual abuse and the effect this had, and the hysteria in the media (remember Richard Dawkins and others proposing that when Pope Benedict came to visit Britain, he should be arrested for crimes against humanity because he (allegedly) covered up abuse cases?

            Look at the Magdalene Laundries. People who have no experience of such in their own country are now convinced that these were set up by the Church in Ireland to punish and mistreat women for the sin of being sexually active outside of marriage. Incidents invented by the director to make the movie more striking are taken as literal truth of what really happened. Try directing people to the report of the tribunal about the history and activities, and it’s no good, the popular narrative has taken hold.

            I don’t think elite Democrats are involved in a secret paedophile ring. But unfortunately, the reflexive response of “it can’t possibly be true because they would never do anything like that!” is no measure of reality – after all, that was the attitude of most of us re: clerical sexual scandals – “priests and nuns could never do anything like what is being claimed, it’s all motivated by those with an axe to grind against the church and religion”. We were wrong.

          • Matt M says:

            “I’ve reviewed the purported evidence for the pizzagate conspiracy theories, and can confirm that it looks like the ravings of a lunatic.”

            I agree with this sentiment entirely.

            This is exactly why pizzagate is relatively harmless and not a big deal at all. Because it’s clearly delusional and easily dismissed by a large majority of people.

            Having a “credible” media source take a survey and spin it using the intricacies of language and using misleading headlines such that most people will take away something that is the opposite of the factual basis claimed (but is still entirely plausible) is far more dangerous. It’s likely to have far greater influence and is about equally sinister (in the sense that the only goal of pizzagate people is to damage Hillary, and the only goal of this NYT piece is to damage Trump).

          • Brad says:

            Economist / Yougov

            See page 60.

            Do you think the following statements are true or not true?

            Leaked email from some of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staffers contained code words for pedophilia, human trafficking and satanic ritual abuse – what some people refer to as ’Pizzagate’.

            Trump voters:
            Definitely true: 11%
            Probably true: 35%

            Also interesting, from page 58

            President Obama was born in Kenya

            Trump voters:
            Definitely true: 16%
            Probably true: 36%

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            I would argue that the average person believes far more ‘spin’ than hardcore falsified news. I also strongly suspect that those in power are relatively resilient to falsified news, but not very resilient to spin.

            So while each individual false belief based on spin may be less severe in nature than each individual case of falsified news, the former may have more negative consequences in aggregate, than the aggregate consequences of falsified news. Or not…it’s rather impossible to quantify each.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Deiseach

            Would you say “that article summarized data in a way which is arguably misleading but it doesn’t matter because it was only an editorial”?

            Pretty much, yeah. Am I the only person here who ever routinely read the Op-Ed section of a newspaper, and saw that the opinion pieces nearly all cherry-picked and misrepresented data in various ways? There would be the syndicated column by James Dobson talking about how homosexuals are unfit parents, and next to it a piece by the head of the local teacher’s union criticizing charter schools. These were always intended as argumentative essays, expected to present the strongest possible case for their conclusion even if that involved giving the data a firm massage.

            Your rebuttal of paedophilia being very rare, there not being rings, etc. makes me smile wryly. I’m Catholic.

            But the scandal in the church began with scores and scores of victims coming forward, not with coded symbols in pizza menus.

            @ Matt M

            Because it’s clearly delusional and easily dismissed by a large majority of people.

            Evidently not: half of republicans now think the pizzagate accusations are true. You have an image in your mind of people reading the New York Times carefully and credulously, taking every word as gospel, while remaining appropriately skeptical of rumors they hear from tabloids or pick up on social media. This image is no longer an accurate one, although I don’t know that it ever was.

          • Jiro says:

            Am I the only person here who ever routinely read the Op-Ed section of a newspaper, and saw that the opinion pieces nearly all cherry-picked and misrepresented data in various ways?

            I’m not sure if you consider this a defense of the Times but I certainly don’t.

          • Deiseach says:

            But the scandal in the church began with scores and scores of victims coming forward, not with coded symbols in pizza menus.

            Your “scores and scores of victims” undercuts your “pedophilia (or, more accurately here, serial sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children not part of the offender’s family) is rare, and pedophile rings rarer still” argument, because if there are “scores and scores” of victims, then it cannot be “rare”.

            Look, you want to argue that Pizzagate is quite plainly crazy nuts bananas, go right ahead, I agree with you. But if you want to back that up with “high-ranking figures in the Democrat party just would not do that sort of thing” – as I said, the scandal in the Church killed that idea once and for all. Anyone can do it. The worst kind of cover-ups can happen.

            Hysteria about lurid tales of child abuse? Pizzagate is not new, the Billy Doe case in Philadelphia is an example of such long before Pizzagate, where an ambitious prosecutor (with, it now appears, good reason to find a campaign to divert attention away from his own peccadillos) and a slew of interested parties with axes to grind all came together to push a case forward that involved a lot of questionable material.

            Ironically, Sabrina Erdely (of “A Rape on Campus” fame, or infamy) also did a story before that on Billy Doe with the same modus operandi – victim is completely telling the truth, any holes in the story are not important, what is important is Big Institution covering up for and protecting the perps.

            And lastly, there was a minor cause célèbre in my own town about an alleged sexual abuse case involving a (former) nun which the media absolutely ran with at their worst; she served jail time; turned out the accuser was mentally ill and had a history of making false rape claims and made claims that could be proven to be factually false, so the sentence was overturned. There was previously an even more low-key case where a drug addict tried to get money from a local priest because the guy needed the money to pay his dealer and threatened to make an accusation of sexual abuse to the cops if he didn’t get it, the priest still wouldn’t pay and he went to the cops, and it went to court as a blackmail case.

            Nobody in Pizzagate suffered anything like that (I know about the guy with a gun who turned up at Comet Ping-Pong and yes, that was serious) and I’m glad they didn’t, but as far as smear and scandal stories go, it was so ludicrous nobody really believed it (apart from the hard-core conspiracy types). If the Podestas and friends had been arrested, charged, tried, bullied into pleading guilty for a plea bargain, and had served time – then we can talk about “what is worse?”

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Your “scores and scores of victims” undercuts your “pedophilia (or, more accurately here, serial sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children not part of the offender’s family) is rare, and pedophile rings rarer still” argument, because if there are “scores and scores” of victims, then it cannot be “rare”.

            This is false; the highest estimates I’ve seen put the rate of child sexual abuse among clergy at around 5%, which means that, picking a priest at random, you can be 95% confident that he’s never molested a child. But there are 400,000 catholic priests in the world, so even this low rate of offending will result in upwards of 20,000 victims. If you see an inconsistency between “pedophilia is rare” and “there are scores [actually tens of thousands] of victims,” the problem lies with your intuitive grasp of large numbers and percentages.

            But if you want to back that up with “high-ranking figures in the Democrat party just would not do that sort of thing”

            Who, exactly, are you quoting here? I have never said this or anything of which this would be an acceptable paraphrase.

            it was so ludicrous nobody really believed it

            Evidently not: as has already been thrice noted, polls show that close to half of republicans believe that the pizzagate allegations are probably or definitely true.

          • Mary says:

            The Pizzagate thing always makes me inquire: is there a rule by which Pizzagate can be confidently labeled false that would not have thus labeled the Rotherham ring when the news of that was first coming out?

            The only response I’ve gotten is that there are a lot of stories about the Rotherham ring, which of course would not have been true when the story was first emerging and would never have been true if the story had been preemptively declared false.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The first is a case where the (true) allegation was that various authorities were ignoring something going on because it was inconvenient to notice that it was going on. There were trials and such in 2010, but it was only until later that the nature and extent of what had happened was apparent.

            It has in common something with all the other “big child abuse situation with a coverup” cases I can think of. You have an institution that should be looking out for molesters. Maybe they’re actual authorities, or maybe they’re an institution like a private school or a religious group that has a duty of care to not enable molesters. There is a molester, or multiple molesters. There usually are accusations that something is happening, possibly even leading to legal procedures, before the full nature of the situation is clear. There were, for example, accusations against Jimmy Savile and Bill Cosby going back quite a while.

            The Pizzagate scandal is a claim that people on the internet have pieced together the clues and found a child molestation ring, with the occult possibly being involved. There’s no previous allegations against Podesta or whoever. The only person in the picture who has been accused of sexual misconduct is Bill Clinton, but he has never been accused of anything involving children.

            It’s not like saying “it turns out that a teacher at an elite private school was molesting kids and there were rumours about it and then he died and a whole bunch of people came out and said they were molested and it became clear the administration knew it was going on and kept it quiet to not damage the brand.” It’s like saying that the school administrators were themselves molesters, acting in concert to molest.

            Of course, there’s the case of Jeffrey Epstein. I don’t think this supports the Pizzagate claims. I think it’s likely that there are molesters in the elite anywhere, because it looks like there’s a baseline rate of people who commit sexual misconduct up to and including of a criminal nature- name an institution or group where there is no sexual misconduct – and some of them will be molesters. It’s likely that some of them are known to others who keep quiet about it. But consider what happened to Epstein: he was involved in paying for sexual services from girls too young to consent. He got caught when a woman claimed her daughter had been paid for sexual services, police investigated, he was charged, and he went to prison, because there was proof he had paid for sex with underage girls.

            This is very different from “the elites are running a pedophilic possibly-Satanic sex ring, and we have figured this out based on emails where people talk about food*, checking out oh-so-edgy art a guy with a bunch of money has collected, and speculating about the logos of pizza places.”

            It doesn’t have much in common with proven cases of molestation and coverup.

            *for the record, I think some of the talk about food sounds a little bit weird, but it’s logical to assume that if it is coded talk, coded talk is more likely about drugs rather than illegal and widely-despised sexual behaviour – more people use drugs than molest children, for one thing.

          • Mary says:

            Ah, but would you have known that about the Rotherham ring when the stories first came out? After all, the Rotherham ring was covered up by authorities afraid of charges of racism. That — the convergence of the ring and the particular reason for the cover-up — is so rare as to be unique in my experience. Normally, the institution has a lot more concrete reason to care: either the molesters are in it, or they are connected to the powers that have a lot of influence on it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The initial charges in the Rotherham case, though, were very different from what some people online claimed to identify in Podesta emails, social media activity, pizza shop logos, etc. There were various accusations going back into the 90s, culminating in an investigation that led to some convictions in 2010. Then it became clear a few years later that things were more serious, and the authorities had been involved in what amounted to a coverup.

            With the Pizzagate case, there’s no victims, families of victims, etc coming forward, as happened with Epstein – a guy who was very rich and influential, but that didn’t protect him from having a victim’s mother come forward, from investigation, etc. It’s not as though evidence in the Rotherham case, at any point, was limited to “let us show you the hidden significance of fast food joints’ logos” or anything like that.

        • Anatoly says:

          >This is worse than Pizzagate, actually.

          This comment is a pretty good example of how the right-wing political dominance (itself endlessly discussed, questioned and debated) on here is a corrupting thing.

          The intense culture war-y attitude of most politically inclined regulars means that right-wing partisan comments that are ridiculous bordering on inane will generally go unchallenged, and to casual readers will seem like they form part of the accepted background (unlike, say, any strong criticism of Trump, which will be vigorously questioned). When they do get challenged, it’s by one of the few regulars identifying with the left, like Earthly Knight above, but there isn’t enough of their activity to override the general perception.

          If it was merely a matter of numerical dominance, if it just so happened that there were many more right-inclined regulars but without that fact corrupting the discourse, it wouldn’t be Earthly Knight’s response above, it’d be one of the right-leaning regulars (instead, suntzuanime is nitpicking the response on the all-too important issue: that of the epistemological inaccuracy in saying that Pizzagate is a false accusation).

          Sometimes such a response does happen, but all too rarely.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            personally I just don’t want to touch —–pizzagate—– with a ten foot pole

            but your point is taken

          • Deiseach says:

            Pizzagate was a ludicrous joke that got out of hand. The New York Times is (at least in theory) a responsible, reliable source of factual information about the news. When it tilts its coverage to use true-but-misleading statements in order to push for one side of a debate over the other, this is worse.

            Lying about your enemies is nothing new. People should be wary by now of outlandish claims. But organs presenting themselves as neutral, presenting themselves as reporting on ‘just the facts’, presenting themselves as unbiased in how they treat partisan matters, do set themselves up to be held to a higher standard. And using their position of trustworthiness to filter information so that it is favourable to one side over another in any debate, even if for the best intentions, even if it’s not out of consciously-decided ‘we’re going to rig this debate’ but comes out of unconscious attitudes about ‘supporting public education is really important and vouchers are only a money-making racket for private business’, is still wrong because it is cheating your readers.

          • codingmonkey says:

            Can someone explain again what it is we are saying is so bad about this article? Alexander’s explanation is incoherent. Look at the numbers weighted by certainty. Positive is still outweighed by uncertain/negative. That is pretty much the definition of “Generally Don’t Buy It”. They didn’t say “Economists Hate It” they used a phrase that implies uncertainty. Why the outrage?

          • onyomi says:

            The deception is in framing the question in terms of positive support v. opposition+no opinion. Yes, technically, those with no opinion can be counted in the “unconvinced” column if you frame the question as “how many are positively convinced?”, but you could just as well frame it in terms of how many are positively convinced that charter schools aren’t superior (which is still not as strong a claim as “public schools are superior”) and get the headlines “only 19% of economists think public schools are as good as charter schools” or “public schools as good as charter schools? 81% of economists don’t buy it.”

            Most people would read that headline and think “wow, 81% of economists think charter schools are better than public schools,” but that would be no more deceptive than what the Times did, albeit in the opposite direction.

          • placeholdersz says:

            No opinion clocks in at 0% whole uncertain is the winner on whether the effects will be positive. Again though, this isn’t explicitly about support.

            Ed. Just realized I misread you on my second sentence

          • akarlin says:

            The idea of Pakistani rape gangs prowling the streets of Bradford and other towns in the UK was also “ridiculous bordering on inane”… until it turned out to be completely true.

            There are many other precedents for it – see here.

            I don’t think it’s an entirely implausible idea that the elites would practice sordid rituals as a condition of entry into their ranks, as a solidarity building exercise and as a source of kompromat against potential defectors. I would put a probability of less than 10% but more than 1% on this.

          • ResonantPyre says:

            The worst you can say about pizzagate is that there is no evidence for it. In this case, the NYT is making a claim that the evidence actually contradicts.

            Well, I don’t think this is necessarily a purely right wing sentiment. I think it’s making a bit of a reach, because pizzagate makes some pretty harmful allegations. It sort of poisons the political discourse as well, “my opponents are pedophiles”.

            But I think this commentator is mostly correct in saying there is no evidence for pizzagate while for NYT the evidence they cite basically contradicts the conclusion or characterization they make from it. Taking just these two factors into account, I do think that this is worse than pizzagate. However, taking the allegations themselves into account, along with the wider political context, I definitely would not think that “this is worse than pizzagate”.

            So I guess it depends in what sense or with what metric you are trying to judge pizzagate compared to NYT insidiously mischaracterizing statistics. Some commentators may be using the metric of how easy to spot something isn’t true. NYT mischaracterizing statistics to give people the impression that most economists think a certain way when they do not is less easy to realize than to realize pizzagate is generally bullshit.

            Indeed, later on people are judging it by this metric. You see people agreeing with the sentiment that “this is worse than pizzagate”, precisely because pizzagate is a ludicrous conspiracy, making it easier to spot. The original commentator that said the quote you cite to make all these claims about “right wing political dominance” actually agreed with pizzagate being a ludicrous conspiracy.

            This entirely fits with pizzagate’s evidence not contradicting the claims made. The evidence doesn’t contradict the claims, it just doesn’t support them enough for the claim to be anywhere near confirmed or true. I have seen nobody in this comment section actually say they think pizzagate is true.

            right-wing partisan comments that are ridiculous bordering on inane will generally go unchallenged

            Where are these right-wing partisan comments? If anything I think the conception that pizzagate is not true seems to be going unchallenged. It is for good reason, because I don’t think any of the commentators in the discussion involving pizzagate actually think pizzagate happened. Saying that pizzagate isn’t “false” doesn’t strike me as being right-wing partisan if you admit it is a ludicrous conspiracy theory.

            I don’t see any right wing partisan comments, at most I see a bit of a contrarian streak and a bit of a nitpicky focus on epistemological claims. I appreciate those aspects, but perhaps you find them annoying.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            But I think this commentator is correct in saying there is no evidence for pizzagate while for NYT the evidence they cite actually contradicts the conclusions they draw from it.

            To be clear: nothing in the NYT piece contradicts anything in the evidence they cite, and Scott never claimed there was any contradiction. His charge was that the headline of the article and the summary of the data were misleading. Anyone who has ever promulgated any of the pizzagate nonsense has undoubtedly also mischaracterized many pieces of “evidence” at some point, so even according to this facacta metric of goodness, pizzagate still comes out orders of magnitude worse than the Times article.

          • Tekhno says:

            Woah, Pizzagate. You should look into it. It’s an interesting case study on apophenia if nothing else. The only thing that gave it wings to begin with was the way people would talk about pizza in the emails. They would refer to it in a way that didn’t match how people normally talked about things like pizza and pasta.

            You then add the link to Comet Pizza and Ping Pong, and all the weird art that has to do with children that both the Podesta bros and the owner of the place Alefantis appreciate (including a piece from Tony’s home that is modeled after one of Jeffery Dahmer’s victims), and the weird sexual bands that would play there in spite of it being billed as family friendly, and the computer generated suspect faces in the Madeleine McCann case that look just like John and Tony Podesta, and the supposed pedo symbology being used, the links to Epstein, the weird metal room that’s being dubbed the “kill room”, the various imgur accounts of people who worked there that also associate the supposed family friendly place with sexualized imagery like a penis ejaculating pizza, the stuff with Alefantis joking about child restraints and posting a pic of a little girl with her arms taped to the table…

            The “evidence” just goes on and on, but as usual, there are always alternate explanations that are excluded due to tribal reasons and confirmation bias. It might just be culture shock from a lot of internet rednecks colliding with elite politician culture and hipster culture where “degeneracy” and sick jokes abound even though nothing illegal or harmful is going on.

            Probably the pizza references in the emails were code for something, but it could have just been campaign related secrets.

          • Matt M says:

            “because pizzagate makes some pretty harmful allegations.”

            Does it though?

            What exactly is the potential harm in pizzagate? It seems that the worst case scenario, if everyone believes it, is that Hillary Clinton goes to jail for a crime she did not commit.

            Citing polls showing that Trump supporters believe it and Hillary supporters don’t confirms that this is not especially harmful. The only people who think this is true are people who already hated Hillary Clinton anyway.

            There is no logical policy prescription that follows in the wake of pizzagate being (believed to be) true.

            But misrepresenting the views of economists does carry obvious policy outcomes. People WILL read this headline and uncritically accept it – or at least, the amount of people who will clearly exceeds the amount of people who will uncritically read Infowars and accept the headlines there.

            The important question to ask is, as it often is, “so what?” If Pizzagate is true, so what? So Hillary Clinton is a monster – who cares? If the majority of economists oppose free markets – well that’s kind of a big deal, isn’t it?

            Unless your point is that the NYT and Infowars are equally credible and the only difference is one’s political orientation. Are you willing to state that, for the record?

          • Brad says:

            Citing polls showing that Trump supporters believe it and Hillary supporters don’t confirms that this is not especially harmful. The only people who think this is true are people who already hated Hillary Clinton anyway.

            It was only a few hours ago that you claimed almost no one believed it. Now you admit that significant numbers of people do believe it but it doesn’t matter because reasons.

            Having been wrong isn’t even a speed bump–it’s barely even acknowledged. Let’s just throw the next thing against the wall to see if this one will stick.

            Can you see why this sort of thing looks like bad faith?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Sorry if my insistence on epistemological accuracy is getting in the way of your all-important issues. We right-wingers can be nasty like that.

          • ResonantPyre says:

            Citing polls showing that Trump supporters believe it and Hillary supporters don’t confirms that this is not especially harmful. The only people who think this is true are people who already hated Hillary Clinton anyway.

            You make a good point that does make me worry slightly less about the impact of the claims, but I still think the extremity of the claims still does harm even if they are only believed by people already against Hillary.

            It polarizes people. Once you believe that your chief political opponent (well, not anymore after the election) has encouraged pedophile rings, you can generalize that to a lot of their side. Rational debate about public schools and a voucher system is precluded by an acceptance that your political opponents are probably not leading massive undercover pedophile rings. Once you think your opponents are this evil, compromise isn’t so possible. It’s an utterly toxic meme to political discourse.

            Now, perhaps the reach of this claim by NYT extends far more than the pizzagate claim. At a certain point, then yes, the NYT being misleading about this issue would outpace the harmfulness of the pizzagate claims. It would have to outpace it pretty far though.

            As a final note, I think the misleading claims about the NYT article will be subject to a relatively similar treatment as in the statement I first quoted here. The people that are true believers in the voucher system will most likely not have their beliefs broken by a mischaracterization and will further investigate. This treatment probably applies to both pizzagate and the NYT article’s misleading characterization.

            Make no doubt about it, I think the NYT mischaracterization is quite harmful but I think the sheer evilness pizzagate implies about the political opponents of most of the people that are proponents of it is more dangerous than a mere economic claim about one issue.

          • Matt M says:

            “Rational debate about public schools and a voucher system is precluded by an acceptance that your political opponents are probably not leading massive undercover pedophile rings.”

            I do see your point, but that bridge has long since been crossed, by both sides. Yes – the right accuses Hillary of being a satanist pedophile, and it’s hard to have a civil policy debate with a satanist pedophile.

            Meanwhile, the NYT and WaPo and other such mainstream, legitimate, totally serious news outlets published countless articles and editorials both indirectly implying and directly asserting that Trump and his supporters were comparable to Adolf Hitler. You don’t have a serious debate about educational policy with literal Hitler either.

            To the extent that there might still exist moderates, or independents, or whatever you want to call them – they will likely dismiss both of these extreme claims that are obvious character assassinations. But they WON’T dismiss things like “economists say Trump’s plan to privatize education is bad.” If you’re the type of person who likes to be non-partisan and to base your vote on factual assertions of trained expert scientists, that article is very influential indeed. And at the end of the day, those are the people who decide elections, not the people who think Hillary is a child-rapist or who think Trump secretly goose-steps around his apartment doing a Nazi salute.

          • nydwracu says:

            I don’t think it’s an entirely implausible idea that the elites would practice sordid rituals as a condition of entry into their ranks, as a solidarity building exercise and as a source of kompromat against potential defectors. I would put a probability of less than 10% but more than 1% on this.

            I’d put “a non-negligible section of the elite preferentially doles out career advancement to people they have kompromat on” at 75%, and “a non-negligible section of the elite practices sordid rituals as a condition of entry into their ranks” at, like, what are the odds that Skull and Bones isn’t a thing?

          • akarlin says:

            @nydwracu,

            …and “a non-negligible section of the elite practices sordid rituals as a condition of entry into their ranks” at, like, what are the odds that Skull and Bones isn’t a thing?

            Well, sure, I mean Dave Cameron (allegedly) fucked a dead pig in one of those strange ceremonies, that is embarassing but not exactly career ending.

            I am implying something considerably more hardcore and perhaps considerably grislier than that for entry into the circles two or three levels above the Bilderbergers, if such an organization exists. I would not rule out that possibility.

            After all, the level of influence those people would have is several orders of magnitude beyond that of a Pakistani-British rape gang, or even the Savile/BBC nexus (incidentally, Mark Thompson, who then worked at the BBC, helped cover up the Savile affair. He now runs the NYT, who have made their position on Pizzagate very clear. The coincidences just keep piling up, don’t they).

  2. nydwracu says:

    I have no idea how Brian Williams can provoke a national scandal by saying that he was on a helicopter when in fact he was on a slightly different helicopter, but the Times will not get in trouble for reporting the opinion of the nation’s economists to be the opposite of what it actually is, in an area with important policy implications.

    Surely you have an idea how a propaganda outlet lying for the benefit of establishment-run brainwashing farms won’t get in trouble from the establishment for it. Would Pravda have gotten in trouble for distorting the truth to inflate the reported percentage of biologists who believe in Lysenkoism? And the stakes there were rather lower for the USSR than the stakes are here — the Lysenko affair was just a theological dispute, whereas charter schools threaten the ability of the state to force most of the children in the country into government-run institutions that exist for government corruption and child abuse for at least thirteen of their most vulnerable years.

    • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

      Never heard of Lysenkoism before today, thank you based nyd.

      Edit: There’s a chance I might start abusing the term for rhetorical purposes, but I’ll try not to.

    • Matt M says:

      Brian Williams was lying for his own benefit. The NYT is lying for the greater good. That’s always acceptable. If Brian Williams was caught lying about a study in a way to trick people into believe said study recommends left-wing policy positions, nobody would care (or notice, because the average anchor does that about five times a show)

    • Mary says:

      Consider Walter Duranty.

      Has NYT ever shown any remorse for printing stories that he made up to cover up the Homolodor?

      • cassander says:

        remorse? Hell, we can’t even get his pulitzer revoked.

      • nydwracu says:

        Has Nicholas Lemann, Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New Yorker staff writer, ever shown any remorse for beginning his journalistic career by endorsing the Khmer Rouge, or for writing a glowing ten-page cover story for the New York Times Magazine about Patrick Chavis?

        I don’t think so.

        Has anyone ever expressed remorse for holding up Patrick Chavis as the poster boy for affirmative action? Even Ted Kennedy sang praises to him. Of course, Kennedy and Chavis have something in common: they’ve both killed women through gross incompetence.

        Tom Hayden was another one of the people who held up Chavis as a model. If you haven’t heard of Hayden: he was an influential Communist sympathizer in the ‘New Left’, who once said that one of his long-term political goals was, direct quote, the “disappearance of the white race”. He died this year. You think they mentioned any of that in their obituaries? NYT didn’t, although they at least pointed out that he went to North Vietnam to try to undermine our war effort.

        Bill Ayers has repeatedly refused to express remorse for the Weather Underground bombings. Somehow he got a professorship. You think the people responsible for that have ever expressed remorse for it? Of course they haven’t.

        And in 2020, when America is still in one piece and (aside from the usual tedious backdrop of foreign wars, issues caused by past presidents’ policies which can’t be realistically handled [e.g. mass immigration], and maybe the end of the tech bubble and/or the beginning of the automation crisis) doing alright, do you think all the people who said Trump was an apocalyptic nightmare fascist will express any remorse for that?

  3. zz says:

    I’m pretty sure the standard reference here is Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confession of a Media Manipulator. Spoiler: online media isn’t very trustworthy.

    edit: standard reference for whether online media is horrible and shouldn’t be read or trusted by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, that is.

  4. TheWackademic says:

    Hi Scott,

    I think that your claim of journalistic malpractice is overblown.

    The survey of economists on the uber question can be found here: http://www.igmchicago.org/surveys/taxi-competition. In this survey, 0% of economists are uncertain, disagree, or have no opinion about whether ride-sharing apps improve consumer welfare. In contrast, 57% are uncertain, disagree, or have no opinion about the education question.

    The New York Times article sought to draw a strong contrast between the results concerning uber and the results concerning school vouchers. I believe that they did this fairly and accurately. When you directly compare the results between the two surveys, you can see that 1) economists are certain about some things, 2) the benefit of school vouchers is not one of them and 3) about 1/3 of economists believe or strongly believe that school vouchers improve student education.

    **edited after Scott added a link to the uber question.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have added a link to the Uber page above (though I don’t think it matters, the results were already mentioned in the quote), but I do not think that excuses the rest of the article.

      If they had said “Economists overwhelmingly supported Uber, but only mostly supported school vouchers,” that would be one thing and a legitimate issue to bring up. But the article is written in such a way as to (I think) strongly imply that economists were not in favor of school vouchers. The title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Don’t Buy It”, not “Free Market For Education: Economists Strongly Support It But Not Quite As Strongly As They Support The Free Market In Other Areas”

      • TheWackademic says:

        Hi Scott,

        I think that you’re equating “uncertain” with “no opinion.” I believe it might solve your problem if you instead read “uncertain” as “believes that there is some evidence for and some evidence against, and it isn’t clear which side has more evidence.” Then, the article fairly claims that a minority of economists believe that school vouchers improve education, while a majority of economists believe it does not, or believe that there is some evidence in both directions.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Suppose I poll people: “Does TheWackademic deserve to live?”

          Everyone who knows you says “Yes”. The 99.9% of the population who don’t know you reasonably answer “uncertain”.

          Then I write an article: “Most people don’t believe TheWackademic deserves to live.”

          Do you agree that’s a little dishonest?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Doesn’t weighting by confidence address exactly this, screening out people who haven’t thought about it? It is weird for people to claim that they are very confident in their uncertainty, but I think that they mean that they have thought about it and no one else should be certain, either. (Or maybe they mean that they have high confidence that voucher programs vary in quality. Which is what the literature says.)

            (I agree that the NYT is a little bit dishonest, but I agree with everything Wackademic said, in particular that your claims are overblown.)

          • TheWackademic says:

            I think that you inadvertently stumbled onto the answer.

            A poll asking “Does random stranger deserve to live?” will not result in 99.9% uncertain, it’ll result in 95% “yes”, +/- the lizardman constant. In a poll with “no opinion” as an option, “uncertain” is itself a very distinct answer meaning explicitly NOT no opinion.

            Moreover, to bring things home – as there are reasonable people in the comment section disagreeing with you, does this suggest that your claim of malpractice isn’t as clear-cut as you present it to be?

          • codingmonkey says:

            This appears to be the coherent thread here.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            i don’t think you need to be a lizardman to admit that you actually don’t know this person and thus have no idea whether or not they deserve to live

            i’m willing to admit that most people would just say “yes” out of various emotions, without thinking much about it. But if they, like the economists presumably did in their survey, thought about the subject and tried to give a really honest answer, “I don’t know” would probably be the overwhelming response.

            There is the argument that they might think probabilistically, based on “all the people I know”, some real bayes shit. But the problem here is that economists don’t know many school voucher systems, few having existed in the history of ever. So that’s not much of an out either.

          • Matt M says:

            If you primed survey participants with something like “and keep in mind, this person might be a child murderer” then you’d get a whole lot of “unsure” answers.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            A poll asking “Does random stranger deserve to live?”

            Well, sure, you’re probably right, for that particular question. Scott slipped by picking one that was rhetorically striking, but flawed because it tends to be our default position that everyone, even bank robbers and abusive spouses, probably at least deserves to live.

            How about, “Do you agree that TheWackademic is generally an honest, upright person?”

            “Do you agree that TheWackademic has never committed a crime?”

            It really isn’t hard to come up with questions that make Scott’s point clear, because they are questions to which most people would reply, “How the hell should I know?”

          • doubleunplussed says:

            @AnonEEmous, they’re not “various emotions”, they’re a bayesian prior for what we would expect to think if we knew the person.

            I would expect most people have a high prior for thinking someone deserves to live, upon getting to know them.

          • martinepstein says:

            @TheWackademic

            A poll asking “Does random stranger deserve to live?” will not result in 99.9% uncertain

            You may be a random stranger now, but as soon as Scott asks the question you join the set of people who have been the subject of “Does X deserve to live?” in a poll. This set is far from random (I’m looking at you, “Real Bayes shit” AnonEEmous).

            My nitpicky objection to the hypothetical is that people who don’t support the death penalty and utilitarians who don’t think in terms of what people ‘deserve’ may answer ‘no’ with certainty even if it’s not unlikely that you’re asking about a nasty character. Maybe “Should X be imprisoned?” would work better.

        • Deiseach says:

          But the point Scott is making is that, the way this is phrased, it is not unreasonable for a reader to conclude “If only one-third thought it was a good idea, then the remaining two-thirds must have thought it was a bad idea” – no ifs, ands or buts; good idea vs. bad idea only.

          There’s nothing there saying “one-third thought it would be mostly or completely positive effect; the rest were split between thought it would be mostly or completely negative; mixed positive and negative effects; unsure because not enough evidence to come to a decision”.

        • Deiseach says:

          The title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Don’t Buy It”

          A better headline would have been “Free Market in Education: Economists Hold A Range of Views” but that would not serve the purpose of a headline, which is to grab attention.

          Since a lot of people only read the headlines and a couple of paragraphs into a story, it’s plausible that they will go away with the idea that economists are mostly opposed to school vouchers. The state of the matter is instead that a large minority think it’s a good idea and the remainder hold varying opinions from ‘bad idea’ to ‘don’t know yet’.

          • Matt M says:

            “A better headline would have been “Free Market in Education: Economists Hold A Range of Views” but that would not serve the purpose of a headline, which is to grab attention.”

            Of course, even that would still be plenty misleading, since the actual question asked is about a national voucher system, which is not a “free market” by any reasonable definition of the term.

          • codingmonkey says:

            Yeah “Generally Don’t Buy It” is a big attention grabber. They really went crazy on that one. And is it that hard to correctly read a headline. You missed a significant word.

          • Deiseach says:

            They really went crazy on that one. And is it that hard to correctly read a headline. You missed a significant word.

            *rolls up sleeves, spits on hands*

            Okay, you want to do this? Let’s parse that headline! Because by Christ, I may be useless at maths, but I know all about fine nuances of meaning, and a newspaper is also a place where the power of words is understood and so there are careful choices in what is said and how it is phrased.

            Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don’t Buy It

            Now, let’s look at the work those three words – “don’t buy it” – are doing. First, it’s a casual use of language; not quite slang, but a conventionally free use of expression, not formal, not a technical term. We are at “man in the street” level here: we’re going to be talking horse sense, not fancy-schmancy academic lingo. Not that we think our readers are stupid, because we know they’re smart and educated, but we’re going to talk plain facts in plain speech, no bullshit, no trying to dazzle anyone with science.

            Secondly, “don’t buy it” is rather a loaded phrase. It has connotations of sturdy common sense standing up to a possible con, someone trying to put one over on you, pull a fast one. This policy wants to sell you a bill of goods, but these experts don’t buy it, and neither should you. That’s the meaning riding on the headline. There’s also a punning sense of wordplay, with “market” and “buy it”, the idea of purchases and sales, the notion that the proposed policy is up for sale and is trying to attract buyers, and that these experts on markets and prices and value and sales don’t think it’s a good bargain, so they “don’t buy it”.

            Thirdly, “generally” is doing weasel word work here. It’s a qualifier, it’s meant to soften the overall thrust of the phrasing, it is to allow for rowing back (‘we never said all or put a definitive number on it, we said in general) should that be necessary. But because it’s a word with a broad sense of meaning, it’s also a weak word, so it does not undercut very much the “economists…don’t buy it” sense of the headline.

            You think this is all very fine-grained stuff and I’m reading too much into it? That’s because very few appreciate the power of words: science, technology, useful things like that have power, but literary usage? What can that do?

            The pen is mightier than the sword not because the pen can stand up to a sword blow, but because the pen does work and reaches places the sword cannot: the inside of your head, the back of your mind, your habits of thought.

          • codingmonkey says:

            I admit you are the king of semantics. You haven’t changed my mind but you have succeeded in making me give up 🙂

      • shorewalker says:

        See my comment below – the piece seems to be a commentary by Professor Susan Dynarski, not news from the NYT.

      • codingmonkey says:

        They don’t mostly support vouchers. 1/3 of them support vouchers. You use semantics to make 1/3 appear to be a majority but in the end it is still just 1/3.

        • Cliff says:

          I bet a lot of the people who are uncertain would support vouchers in order to gather more evidence, as may some of the people who disagree. Many may also believe vouchers would achieve the same quality for less money.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            but the question was “do you believe they will improve schooling” not “do you support them”

            so they could lie, i guess, but I don’t think that’s what you meant

          • 1soru1 says:

            A lot of people might support additional trial programs for vouchers, and disagree with a national rollout now.

            Especially given that it will take place under Trump, so is pretty likely to be a scam to loot the public purse.

        • Deiseach says:

          They don’t mostly support vouchers.

          They don’t mostly oppose vouchers, either. Some of them do, some of them have no strong view one way or the other, some of them think they might work in some areas and not in others, etc.

          • placeholdersz says:

            But the question is whether they would improve education, and only a third agree. If the question was whether it hurt education then you could say only 20% think it will. As others have noted the most accurate title would have been ‘economists unsure.’

      • ShemTealeaf says:

        I’m not sure how you can interpret those results as “Free Market For Education: Economists Strongly Support It But Not Quite As Strongly As They Support The Free Market In Other Areas”.

        I’m strongly inclined in favor of free markets, but I would characterize that data as “Free Market For Education: Economists Are Uncertain About The Effects”.

      • 1soru1 says:

        > only mostly supported school vouchers,

        How is that possibly a fair summary of the report? Being uncertain is being uncertain, it is neither support nor opposition. One third is not most.

        To summarize the summary, the NYT is right, and you are wrong.

  5. The Nybbler says:

    Also, vouchers aren’t exactly free-market. They are more like an attempt at a simulation of a free-market by statists who have heard that free markets are good. (You see similar things inside corporations all the time, though unless you’re inside you don’t hear about them until after the fact when you read a book and it says “Among the reasons for the failure of XYZ corporation…”)

    • doubleunplussed says:

      It seems to me that sometimes we have to do weird things with markets due to other parts of them not being free. If you assume there are no schools cheaper than, say, $5000, then giving everyone $5000 cash per year per child via tax offsets, and legally requiring everyone to send kids to school is identical to giving them a voucher of $5000 per child, isn’t it? (not quite, because cash is transferable and they could spend it and have to go into debt later to pay for school, but it’s almost the same).

      So the aspects of the market that are not “free” are:

      1. Education is compulsory
      2. We’re redistributing income/wealth to people to the tune of $5000 per child per year.

      So I’d say that if someone disagrees with vouchers on the grounds that they are not akin enough to a free market, it’s actually the above two points that they are disagreeing with, and they are a lot harder to disagree with! Non-compulsory secondary education is a pretty hard sell now that we’ve seen how great universal education is, and having something compulsory without ensuring everyone can pay for it is pretty draconian.

      So you layer non-free-market things on top, but only because the underlying layers are non-free-market. And then some of the most-underlying layers, though not “free-market” in essence, are really desirable things like social safety nets and compulsory education.

      One kind of thinking I’ve come to is that even if you think free markets are perfect in principle (I don’t, but anyway), many aspects of the world are not currently run by free markets, and that means that the best policy decision for any specific thing might not be the free market one – because you have to consider the interactions with the non-free-market stuff.

      • SEE says:

        Non-compulsory secondary education is a pretty hard sell now that we’ve seen how great universal education is,

        We have? More than three-fourths of Americans over the age of 25 didn’t have high school diplomas in 1940; now less than an eighth don’t. What benefits have we really seen from this universalization of secondary education?

        • placeholdersz says:

          It probably has something to do with generational increases in IQ scores.

        • codingmonkey says:

          Are you saying things were better in 1940?

          • AnonEEmous says:

            were they appreciably worse?

          • codingmonkey says:

            Yes as far as I know we live longer and have much more free time today than we did in the 40s. Is there something that was better then?

          • Mary says:

            Post hoc ergo prompter hoc.

            Perhaps we are uselessly splurging on pointless secondary education because we are not considering our increased prosperity wisely.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            in terms of diplomats, was I believe the discussion

            because the point of this discussion was to ask if that extra schooling actually caused those increases in life quality. For example, do we have better diplomacy now that our diplomats are educated? Does educating anyone besides a small group of people (scientists, engineers) actually do anything for society?

          • codingmonkey says:

            Yes the point of educating everyone is so that everyone reaches their full economic potential. In general more education should result in better decision making. Obviously at some point the returns diminish. Maybe that is your point?

          • SEE says:

            No, I’m specifically asking how much improvement can we actually attribute to universalization of secondary education, versus things like economic growth, scientific knowledge, and progress in technology being cumulative processes.

            Or, even limiting ourselves to the field of education, the substantial expansion in college education. Did we benefit from universalization of secondary education, or by taking our most-educable quarter of the population and giving it tertiary education? Only about 5% of the adult population had bachelor’s degrees in 1940, while 25% or so do now. If we had a population whee 75% didn’t have high school diplomas (like in 1940), but in the other 25% everybody else had at least bachelor’s degrees (like today), would we be worse off than now? Or better off, because we weren’t wasting years of the time of 75% of the population?

          • Mary says:

            ” In general more education should result in better decision making. ”

            Should it? But surely the question is DOES it?

          • codingmonkey says:

            @SEE – my impression is education is used as a filter to find smart, motivated people. The more people that go into the filter the more good people you will find. Some people have the resources to bypass this filter but for most people it is probably the easiest way to prove your worth. I believe the productivity of the superstars identified this way pays for the rest but maybe I am wrong.

            @Mary – are people with more education generally wealthier? I believe so. Wealth accumulation may not be the best predictor of good decision making but I expect it is one of the better ones. Obviously we don’t want everyone to be educated or I wouldn’t get subsidies from state lotteries.

          • baconbacon says:

            my impression is education is used as a filter to find smart, motivated people. The more people that go into the filter the more good people you will find.

            This is not how filters work, the output you get is dependent on the quality of the input. For example a simple Brita water filter, the amount of clean water you can get out of it depends on the quality of the water going in. Pour muddy enough water into it and it will clog and not work at all.

            Filters work around the principle that specific things can be separated from other specific things, not on the principle that 1 thing can be separated from anything else by one process.

            If education works as a filter it is extremely unlikely that it will continue to work indefinitely as you push larger and larger segments of the population in.

          • codingmonkey says:

            bacon you are pessimistic about the cleanliness of our population. A vast majority are already literate so I don’t think we have to worry about the filter getting clogged. Whether or not the filter is cost effective I think is the more relevant issue. Of the places where we are going to waste money I expect education is probably one of the better wastes.

      • cassander says:

        just FYI, per pupil K-12 education spending in the US is more like 12k a year.

  6. Silder says:

    On a meta note with regards to this post: what do you hope to accomplish here? You complain that your comment section is too “right-wing” then you post things like this. Everyone on the right knows the NY Times lies all the time (with things that are sometimes technically true). The left either doesn’t believe that that’s possible or believes that the NY Times is a right wing corporate propaganda source. Either way they’re not going to be comfortable with this post – the NYTimes is lying in service of what can’t even plausibly be spun as a corporate interest. Of course it’s going to repel left wing commentary – it’s an item that simply doesn’t fit into their worldview.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      I’m on the left, and I think they’re a lying sack of shit.

      I wanted to say something similar, but instead of saying “right wing people will come out of the walls”, it was going to be “if you hear people complaining, please don’t assume they’re right wing. Lefties can hate the media being crooks too”

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        I am pretty sure a fair few folks on the left are unhappy with the NYT for “normalizing fascism.”

      • Cadie says:

        I find left lying to be a little bit MORE annoying than right lying, in the “please stop, you’re making our side look bad” way. I think more often than not that the left’s case is stronger, and trying to make it stronger artificially by exaggerating favorable details and omitting the negatives actually does the opposite. If someone wants to make an argument against, say, food assistance or allowing same-sex marriage by using crappy data and/or crappy analysis, that’s not good but at least it makes counterarguing easier. Seeing similar bad methods used to support the things I care about is more frustrating.

        • doubleunplussed says:

          I totally get that. When the right makes bad arguments I’m like “no shit – it’s not like there are good arguments available, when your conclusions are false, of course your arguments are going to be bad ones”. But when the left makes bad arguments I’m like REEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

        • tgr says:

          I don’t even care about looking bad (and as recent events have shown even mass distribution of completely ridiculous lies and conspiracy theories does not necessarily result in that side “looking bad” in any politically relevant sense), but when the NYT distorts facts, that’s something I might end up believing (when a conservative news source does it, I probably won’t read it in the first place, and if I do, I’ll be a lot more skeptical about it). Of course I’m more upset when someone is poisoning the kind of food that I tend to eat, even if in theory I think all kinds of food poisoning is bad.

          (What *does* repel left-wing commentary, IMO, is the extremely poor quality of the comments. Most of which this time are debating whether a NYT opinion article giving a misleading if technically correct summary of an economic study it links to is worse than, or merely indistinguishable in level of intellectually dishonesty from, making up and perpetuating the belief that the Democrat leadership participates in child trafficking and pedophilia.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The honest answer is that I read the article and it annoyed me and I needed a place to vent.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        There’s always tumblr.

        Not that I agree with the premise.

      • shorewalker says:

        Scott, at this point I’d really encourage you to reread the article, to look at the way it’s described, the section it’s in and the outside commentator who wrote it, and to consider whether it really deserves your tag of “misreporting”. I don’t think it’s a piece of reporting at all. It’s expert commentary from outside the NYT, not an NYT staffer’s news piece. Your venting therefore seems misplaced, unless I have misunderstood something.

        No offence, but a correction would seem in order.

        • nyccine says:

          I don’t think it’s a piece of reporting at all. It’s expert commentary from outside the NYT…

          Then you don’t get what the purpose of the Media is, how Media works. “It’s just opinion” doesn’t cut it when Fox News pulls that stunt, and it doesn’t count here either.

          The NYT doesn’t randomly post editorials, no-one does. This article is here for a reason: to sell its audience a story. To make the audience walk away with their opinion on vouchers shifted more towards “oppose” rather than “support.”

          And it works. That’s how people, in the main, make decisions. When “research” that claims “economists don’t buy claims about the effectiveness of school vouchers” and includes handy little graphs gets printed in the Times, then this becomes TRUTH, no matter how terrible it is. You will ever after be stuck in rearguard action; even when you temporarily manage to convince someone how terrible the study in question was, a day or a week or maybe a month later all that reasoning fades into the background and “wait, wasn’t that school voucher thing shown to be nonsense” bubbles back up in the memory.

    • Tekhno says:

      Ultimately, isn’t this just asking Scott to tailor his opinions to the kind of people he hopes to attract to the comment section?

      • Silder says:

        Scott is on the left. He wants a (more) left wing comment section.

        Scott should know by now that the NY Times is always lying.

        To that end – mentioning the lies is in bad taste. Only those sorts actually talk about the lies in the Times. Same for Vox.

        • NoLifeMatters says:

          His concern is probably that he wants the left to be better, and its hard to do that if youre not willing to call out your side when it goes astray. This has the unwanted effect of attracting rightists and putting off leftists, but what the hell else is a left wing rationalist who sees left wing sources/people being irrational supposed to do?

          Broadly speaking, look at the transformation the right has undergone in the past decade, helped in no small part by the internet. Pandora’s box is open, all these old taboos are running around in the light of day causing mayhem. All the momentum is one side, a great debate is taking place, and one of the participants seems scarcely aware it’s even happening. To their credit, many left wingers are cognizant of this and trying to articulate a compelling response, but they appear to be being drowned out by a wave of wolf-crying and misinformation.

          • Jiro says:

            what the hell else is a left wing rationalist who sees left wing sources/people being irrational supposed to do?

            What’s he supposed to do? Update to a less left position.

            Scott keeps seeing evidence that favors the right or libertarians, and is smart enough and honest enough to recognize it for what it is, but he won’t take the obvious next step and decide that maybe the side that he’s spontaneously finding evidence for may actually be a pretty good side.

            In this specific case, Scott has found, on his own and without any prompting from right-wingers, an example of New York Times bias against the free market and in favor of the left. The next step should be to say “maybe all the right-wingers complaining about left-wing bias in the Times have a point”. After all, he did just find evidence that the right-wingers’ point is correct.
            Instead, Scott decides to ban a term used by right-wingers to describe left-wing media bias (ironically, in response to left-wingers using it against the right first.)

            That’s a terrible idea. It’s like noticing that that your local burger shop serves burgers made with human meat, so you ban the use of the word “cannibal” on your blog because you don’t want anti-burger people on your blog.

            (And this is far from the only example. Scott has found–just by being intellectualy honest–so much evidence in favor of libertarians that people who come here and don’t know that he wrote the anti-Libertarian FAQ assume that he’s a libertarian simply because of all the evidence he’s found.)

          • doubleunplussed says:

            I learned the hard way that just because the people you see supporting a cause are raving lunatics, that’s not particularly strong evidence against their position. Reversed stupidity isn’t intelligence, and you can think that most lefties are morons without thinking that has any bearing at all on whether left policies are good ones or not.

            So seeing lefties being lying intellectually dishonest d-bags doesn’t make me update away from left wing politics except to the extent that “being a lying intellectually dishonest d-bag” is a left wing policy. But actually I was already against that one, wouldn’t you have it, so no update required.

            You don’t get to choose your political allies, literally anyone can adopt a political position you hold and start advocating it badly and making you look bad. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Jiro Updating less left might be a bit hasty. The first step should probably be to read more comparable right wing sources (National Review? Open to suggestions here) and see if they commit equivalent sins.

          • At only a slight tangent, Scott reminds me of George Orwell. Orwell was a committed left winger, a socialist, who was very much aware of things wrong with the left and willing to say so.

            Scott is less committed to left wing views than Orwell, in part because he knows some things that Orwell didn’t, perhaps couldn’t, know, but other than that he is in a very similar situation.

          • You don’t get to choose your political allies, literally anyone can adopt a political position you hold and start advocating it badly and making you look bad. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

            +1

          • Jiro says:

            I learned the hard way that just because the people you see supporting a cause are raving lunatics, that’s not particularly strong evidence against their position.

            If the right-wing position is “the New York Times has left-wing bias”, and the evidence is an example of left-wing bias in the New York Times, its direct evidence for the right’s claim. It doesn’t pass through any “… because the left is lunatics” steps.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            The right may be correct that the NYT has a left-leaning bias, but this isn’t much evidence in favour or against left wing ideas, unless you’re counting “the NYT has a left bias” among those ideas. And I’m not. Whether or not a particular newspaper is biased isn’t really on the left-right spectrum.

          • cassander says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Interesting comment on orwell. I’ve always thought he got way more credit than he deserves for not being a stalinist. It’s true that he wasn’t one, and was never one, but “wasn’t a stalinist” is damnably faint praise even among the inter-war left. And while he wasn’t a Stalinist, he damn sure was a Leninist, something that usually gets left out in a peculiar sort of motte and bailey.

            Orwell was aware of a few leftist flaws, but he was neck deep in others.

          • nydwracu says:

            His concern is probably that he wants the left to be better, and its hard to do that if youre not willing to call out your side when it goes astray.

            Even harder when your side thinks it’s entitled to go astray as much as it damn well pleases and anyone who says otherwise is a fascist Kremlin stooge who needs to die.

            No faction is big enough for both Neera Tanden/Robby Mook/the Something Awful crowd and… anyone who cares about our country and/or the truth. The best talents of your party nearly lost the primary to a Jewish socialist from Vermont, and then lost the general to Funny Wrestling Man, and now they’re blaming their loss on Russia “hacking the election”. Sure, and Iraq had nukes.

          • Deiseach says:

            What’s he supposed to do? Update to a less left position.

            Possibly. Or possibly try and reform the left. Because here on the right we have swivel-eyed loons, extremists, liars, and all the panoply of glorious human experience as well. Redressing the balance means acknowledging that all the virtue is not on one side and all the evil on the other, and that holds for both left and right.

            Some left views are bad. Some are good. Some right views are bad. Some are good. I mean, I’m temperamentally and intellectually inclined to the right, and I feel no need to become a libertarian, so I don’t see why Scott should either.

          • What I hope people like Scott will is try to create a much improved version of the left.

            That was my hope for Cass Sunstein et. al., academics who identify with the left but have absorbed a lot of the Chicago school econ criticisms of various left wing orthodoxies. It could still happen.

      • Randy M says:

        Yes, and that is the reason I dislike that constant complaint. Let Scott post on what he think matters and let the chips fall where they may.

        • nydwracu says:

          In the Bush era, Scott’s comments section would be full of flaming liberals. But we’re not in the Bush era, so it’s not.

          It’s kind of hard for a faction to tell outlandish, brazen lies 24/7 and still hold onto the sorts of people who read blogs about medical papers.

          Hell, I liked Kucinich in 2008.

        • Tekhno says:

          Possibly this means that the right wing comment section is an artifact of the Obama era, and we’ll swing back towards a comment section filled with lefties during the sure to be disastrous Trump years. In fact, I think this is already starting with more left wing early colonists coming in.

      • Anon. says:

        Opinions can be kept private. By selectively airing some and not others, you mold your audience.

        • Aapje says:

          And yourself…

          because you don’t get feedback about some opinions.

        • Tekhno says:

          The other option is for Scott to say whatever he likes, but then just mold the comment section with a more brutal moderation style. I don’t think he likes either option to my knowledge.

          • I think one should modify opinions about blogging strategy on the basis of evidence. Scott, so far as I can tell, has followed a consistent pattern of posting what he finds interesting and only lightly moderating. The result is the best conversation I have yet found online, which is some evidence that the approach works.

    • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

      This shifted my opinion of the New York Times from negative suspicions to something more concrete, so if you’re saying that it has no power to change minds I don’t agree.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the New York Times problem is not deliberate slanted coverage, it’s what is called Kellerism – from Bill Keller, a former editor, describing the values held by the paper:

        We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.

        And what in 2012 the resigning Public Editor noted:

        The Times is hardly transparent. A reader still has to work very hard to find any Times policies online (though some are tucked away there), and there is still no place where Times editors speak on the issues. As for humility, well, The Times is Lake Wobegon on steroids (everybody’s way above average). I don’t remember many autopsies in which, as we assembled over the body, anyone conceded that maybe this could have been done differently.

        The strong suit, though, is the corrections desk, led by Greg Brock, where thousands of errors are somehow adjudicated every year. This is a powerful engine of accountability, unmatched by any other corrections operation I have seen, and a potential foundation element for a portal where The Times could prominently display “transparency, accountability, humility.”

        I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

        When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

        As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

    • suntzuanime says:

      On a more meta note, what do you hope to accomplish with this comment? Let Scott post what he damn well pleases.

      • scriptifaber says:

        I strongly agree. I am starting to think that mentioning the “right-wing comments” has served as a lightning rod, drawing out a lot of commentators and drowning out the usual on-topic object or meta discussion with a more useless but easier to argue about topic. I feel discouraged about the number of times I have seen “right-wing comments” discussed now, it’s eating up open threads, and now the standard topics too.

        As a meta-meta-meta aside, I note that I too have fallen into the trap of discussing “right-wing comments”, rather than the topic. I hope something will be done about this.

  7. taion says:

    It’s even worse if you read through the comments from the economists. David Autor is a “disagree” with a confidence of 8, but his comment is:

    Maddeningly sweeping! Some students would benefit and the average effect might indeed be positive. But some students would surely be harmed.

  8. Deiseach says:

    By leaving it at “only a third of economists support vouchers”, the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy.

    This is precisely what I’m complaining about when it comes to the reporting on “Hillary Clinton won the popular vote” – there are terms thrown about like “won by a staggering amount”, for instance, but no hard figures. Where figures are quoted, it’s generally “over two million votes” or “nearly three million votes”. The conclusion you, the reader, are meant to come away with is that Clinton has a massive lead over Trump, is hugely the choice of The People, and if it weren’t for the Electoral College being set up in such a byzantine way, she would have been rightfully elected president.

    They don’t mention that it is “two million votes out of a total of 135,699,677” (I had to dig those numbers up and add them together myself) or that neither she nor Trump got 50% of the vote – it’s 48% to 46% (roughly) or that the “staggering” amount comes out to 2% difference between them. Okay, places that do mention the 2% like to make a big point out of “larger than the lead with which 10 presidents have won the general election” but, um, er, she didn’t win the election, guys, comparing her results to other elections is like comparing this year’s fourth placed finisher in the men’s 100m to ten winners of races in 1900-1920 – yes he may be faster than the winners of those races but he is still not a medal winner. And it’s still only 2% which is very close.

    How you phrase things really, really matters. This is what is meant when people complain about bias in the news – not that it’s fake, or the figures are wrong, or that the words attributed to X are not actual words that X said. But when writing the story and editing it, the subtle bias in the opinions comes out in “this person/thing is a bad person/thing, I will look for the evidence to prove that” and it is presented that way. Not deliberate or conscious bias, but behind the positions everyone takes.

    Plainly, the New York Times journalists have a position based on their own feelings and beliefs that Trump is the devil so every decision, every policy, every action he is going to take is bad and wrong, hence “this policy is so bad, only one-third support it; surely if it were good, most of them would support it, see this proves what we were saying, you can’t say we’re biased when the facts are these!”

    • RMc says:

      Let’s start with the fact that there ain’t no such thing as “winning the popular vote”. Leading, yes. Winning, no.

      • placeholdersz says:

        That’s sounds like am opinion stated as a fact to me.

      • Deiseach says:

        I suppose if the election were decided on the popular vote, then 51%-49% would be deemed “winning”. (Neither Trump nor Clinton managed this type of result, though). 2% would still be a narrow margin, even if that is a bigger margin than most differences before (so most American presidential elections ended up something like 50-50 in the popular vote? Is that what I am to believe from the “she won by a margin bigger than any margin between candidates in past contests”?)

    • Mary says:

      I really love the people who mention that she got more votes than any other losing candidate before. . . which couldn’t be ’cause the population is growing or something.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, that’s what annoys me. I don’t mind them saying she got more votes or whatever, as long as the information is clear. More votes than how, exactly? Three million out of a total of what?

        But it’s the way it is being phrased, as though she were cheated out of her victory, or Trump stole it, that gets my goat. I suppose it’s all of a piece with the “Russians hacked the election” thing, though; the notion being floated that Russians got at the polling machines and fiddled with them. They both ran, he managed to get more electoral college votes than she did, end of story. (I imagine the sting is in the “managed to get more electoral college votes” – she was running on experience, insider knowledge, I’ve been in administrations before, I know how to work this machine, while my opponent has not the faintest idea of politics much less being in charge of running a government department and yet with all this experience and know-how her campaign screwed up getting the calculations on the electoral college right. That has got to rankle.)

        • Tibor says:

          The BBC reported that “Clinton got more votes than any white man” (that was the title) but they did start the article by mentioning that this is not population adjusted. Generally, my impression of the BBC is that they write clickbaity titles with a moderate to strong left-wing slant, but the articles themselves only tend to have a weak left-wing bias. I don’t read any US media expect for Reason occasionally (I try to avoid it because their biases and mine are usually aligned)

          • Deiseach says:

            The BBC reported that “Clinton got more votes than any white man”

            Considering that, with one (1) exception, all previous presidential candidates have been white men, this is like saying “Clinton got more votes than any dog/flower pot/bunch of asparagus”. She got more votes than previous winners? Well, I suppose that means that retrospectively, she is entitled to be president for the past two hundred and something years!

            And it’s not true, as I explain at length in a comment further down thread. The election of 1824, Adams vs Jackson, Jackson was the popular vote winner by 10% but still lost out to Adams. To scale up the margin of votes by which Jackson won over Adams to this election’s results, Hillary would have needed to have won 14 million more votes than Trump, not 3 million.

            At last report, Andrew Jackson was considered to be a white man 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            “Clinton got more votes than any white man” … [is] not true, as I explain at length in a comment further down thread.

            She got a higher absolute number of votes than any white man, because the population is growing and we’ve had a black man in office for the last eight years. She did not get a higher proportion of votes than any white man, because it was a close race and we’ve had plenty of races which weren’t.

            Technically true. Very very misleading.

          • Matt M says:

            And I’m sure, upon reporting that HRC got more votes than any white man in history, immediately announced the successful elimination of racism and sexism in America.

          • Tibor says:

            @Deiseach: Like I said, they mentioned that it is not adjusted by population. These are absolute numbers of votes, not ratios. I agree that the title is putting a strain on the term “spin” but at least they had the decency of mentioning that this is not adjusted by population (I stopped reading the article after that since it makes it quite meaningless, the only information is that the US population has been growing, even since the 90s, which is mildly surprising since it is not the case in many, perhaps even most, European countries). But my point is that while the BBC makes clickbaity headlines, usually with a strong leftist spin, the articles are more balanced than the headlines suggest and apparently more balanced than (most?) other left-leaning media (by which I am not trying to say that the right-leaning media are on average more balanced than the left-leaning ones).

            @Nornagest I don’t see how Obama is a black man any more than he is a white man. Ben Carson is black, Obama is not, unless you treat being white like a recessive gene 🙂 If Obama is black, then I am Jewish (with my 1/8th Jewish ancestry).

          • onyomi says:

            @Tibor

            I think Obama is 1/2 black, not 1/8 black. Also, historically, if less so today, there was an extent to which whiteness was treated like a “recessive gene” in the US. That is, any black ancestry (for practical purposes, any visually discernible black ancestry) automatically put you in the category “black,” even if you were more white than black.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t see how Obama is a black man any more than he is a white man.

            Okay, call him mixed-race then. Same conclusion.

            As an aside, though: there is a sense in which whiteness is commonly treated like a recessive gene. Take a class on critical race theory, as I was forced to in college, and you’ll hear a lot about social construction of race and the one-drop rule, the sum of which is that if you visibly diverge from the ISO white anglo-saxon spec in any way, you are automatically cast into the appropriate race even if you’re genetically mostly European.

            I think this actually ends up working a lot less strictly and more idiosyncratically than my professors would have you believe (there are plenty of people that just look ambiguously brown to me, including some with as much African ancestry as Obama has), but I also think it’s basically true that Western culture is quicker to call people nonwhite than it is to call them white. And I don’t care enough to make strenuous efforts against that tendency.

        • Mary says:

          On the popular vote — Trump observed that if it had been a popular vote deciding things, he would have campaigned differently.

          And I’ve read some things that indicated that Clinton’s campaign did stuff to run up the popular vote in places where it didn’t matter to ensure that she didn’t end up — well, where Trump did. But the electoral college should have been the priority.

    • shorewalker says:

      See my comment below – as far as I can tell, the piece was not written by an NYT journalist but was a contributed commentary.

    • placeholdersz says:

      It’s staggering in the sense that the loser of our election had 2 million more people who wanted her to be president than the winner.

      • nydwracu says:

        Our political system isn’t set up to care about how many people want someone to be president.

        America is — nominally, these days — a federation of states.

        (you know how people who aren’t from the US [or, for historical reasons which are in fact relevant to the US system but which are not relevant here, Germany] use ‘state’ to mean ‘sovereign country’ and something like ‘province’ to mean ‘state’? yeah, about that)

        Our political system is set up to care about how many states (which are represented by electors) want someone to be president.

        By some combination of convention and state laws, states decide who they want for president by taking a survey of all their inhabitants.

        Maybe you think there ought to be a national popular vote for president, but you can’t know anything about what such a vote would look like. Candidates would campaign differently and voters would vote differently. (How many Republicans in populous blue coastal states don’t bother to vote because they know their state won’t turn red?)

        • placeholdersz says:

          We have the electoral college for a number of antiquated reasons, none of which have much relevance today. But it’s what we have. It is funny that only republicans in blue states stay home.

      • Deiseach says:

        Nearly three million more, but crucially that only came out to 48% of those who voted (a good lump of those eligible to vote didn’t). So if we assume that the USA is divided 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans (which is probably a bad assumption), she couldn’t even convince all the Democrats to come out to vote for her – and we saw that in the election, where a lot of the Obama voters just stayed home, and these were votes that her campaign relied on as being in the bag.

        If it was a vote on plain “first past the post”, she probably would have won – but then the papers might have had to write about “one of the lowest winning margins of any president” or something. I see by this handy table that if she beat Trump by 2% that would have put her just under Carter beats Ford (39th place on the list out of 48).

        Even if the election had been decided on the popular vote, it would not have been a resounding victory or an unimpeachable mandate from the people, it would have been “just squeaked it”.

        • placeholdersz says:

          I’m not arguing about the closeness of the election, just that that’s alot more votes to get than the winner.

          • Deiseach says:

            But is it a lot more votes? As that table I linked to shows, it’s not very high on the list of “winners versus losers” – Harding vs Cox is the champion with 26% margin, which sounds like Harding got a heck of a lot more votes.

            It’s three million out of a total of one hundred and thirty five million (plus change), and that’s not even the total eligible votes because a good lump of voters didn’t turn out this time. Three million votes may be a lot, or it may be an average amount, or it may be a small amount – I see by the Carter vs Ford result that it was 40,831,881 to 39,148,634 which yes, is a tiny difference, but Carter still just about managed 50% to 48%.

            Wikipedia tells me Johnson vs Goldwater was the largest difference in the popular vote – 61% to 39% (rounding off) and a difference of 16 million votes between them.

            So the accolade seems to be “most difference in votes by a losing candidate in the popular vote”, and I’ll have to dig around a bit more to see if that one is true.

            EDIT: Okay! Some preliminary rooting around on Wikipedia turns up a couple of interesting facts; I didn’t go very far back or forward, so perhaps there are even more striking gaps. But!

            Most contentious dog-fight for an American presidential election is probably not Clinton vs Trump, that honour seems to go to Hayes vs Tilden in 1872 where we have a Republican versus a Democrat, the Democrat wins the popular vote 51% to 48% (again rounded off) and the Republican is elected due to some fuzzy electoral college goings-on. Cue immense controversy! (Any of this sounding familiar?)

            We then jump further back to 1824 where it’s Adams vs Jackson, again in the popular vote Adams gets 31% and Jackson gets 41%, but Adams is elected president. (The reason that adds up to 72% is because there were two other candidates in the race who polled the extra votes – again, sounding familiar?)

            Both of these far outweigh Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote: 48% to 46% is 2% of a margin, unlike Tilden’s 3% and Jackson’s whopping 10% margins. So her vote is not the “biggest margin between a loser and a winner in the popular vote”.

            Let’s take a look at the relative figures, then. As I said, Clinton (to the most recent figures I could find) won 3 million more than Trump out of a total of 135 million. That translates to 2% of a margin.

            Hayes vs Tilden? Difference there is 254,235 votes out of a total of 8,322,857, which is 3% of a margin.

            Adams vs Jackson? Difference is 38,149 votes out of a total of 264,393 352,780 (forgot to add in the votes for the other two runners) which gives us, again, a whopping 10% of a difference.

            Somebody check this next, because I am probably making a dog’s dinner out of it.

            Re: Hayes vs Tilden, a vote of 8 million popular vote in their election to 135 million in this election means this election’s vote is 17 times bigger, so to scale up their difference in the popular vote to current figures would result in a gap of 4 million votes. That’s still more than Clinton’s 3 million.

            Adams vs Jackson, vote of 353,000 to 135 million is 380 times bigger, scale up the difference there would be 14 million votes.

            (Okay, everyone tell me that’s not how you do it and please fix my bad maths).

            So whatever way you slice it, Clinton’s election results are not unique. Unless we want to say “in the modern era” or “20th century elections” or something like that. But once again, this is not how it’s being presented, it’s being presented as “unprecedented number of winning votes for loser over winner in popular vote! hugest margin!” which it simply ain’t.

            3 million votes is a lot, but that’s out of a total of 135 million. Her margin in the popular vote over Trump is 2% which is less than Tilden’s 3% and Jackson’s 10% “won the popular vote, lost the election”. So she didn’t even manage to win the award for “biggest loser”, she takes bronze (and that’s only in this cursory look I’ve had, I didn’t check every single presidential election so these are tentative results).

            If anybody is entitled to be pissed off over getting a raw deal in the election, I think Andrew Jackson is head of the queue. Damn those Russian hackers! 🙂

          • placeholdersz says:

            But the winner won 😉

          • Brad says:

            There’s only five potentially relevant cases in American history. In 1824 the popular vote and electoral vote went the same way but the election was thrown into the House. In 1876 the electoral college vote was contested. After much wrangling the disputed electoral votes were awarded to the loser of the popular vote in exchange for the end of military reconstruction.

            That leaves 1888, 2000, and 2016 as ‘ordinary’ inverted elections. In 1888 the gap was 0.8% (47.8% to 48.6%), in 2000 it was 0.5% (47.9% to 48.4%).

          • tgr says:

            You could have just checked the bottom of the table you linked 🙂
            That puts the last election as #3 most unfair (for some value of fairness), and the worst since 1876, so that still seems plenty of ground for people to be upset.

            (Adams vs Jackson was extra contentious as Jackson had a significant majority in both the popular and the electoral vote, but no supermajority, and so House of Representatives elected Adams by a narrow margin.)

        • John Schilling says:

          If it was a vote on plain “first past the post”, she probably would have won

          Probably not, because she wouldn’t have made it to the post (i.e. the 50% mark). Pretty much everybody who hands out political power on the basis of the popular vote, insists on a run-off or some other sort of tiebreaker if nobody make it to 50% on the first round, which leaves us speculating A: what sort of system a hypothetical popular-vote United States would use and B: where all the third-party votes would have gone on the runoff.

          On A: The electoral-vote US system has the rule, “let Congress decide if nobody breaks 50%”, and if we carry that over, yep, still a Republican congress so Clinton doesn’t win.

          On B: The zeroth-order approximation is that Stein was the Blue Tribe Protest Vote while Johnson and McMullen were the Red Tribe Protest Votes, which still leaves Clinton out in the cold. But there’s more diversity in the Johnson vote in particular than the zeroth-order model allows, so maybe Clinton squeaks by?

          Talk to me about a candidate “winning” the popular vote when they actually get a majority of the votes. And understand that if we actually hold a popular vote, there will be more protest votes, because it is safer to do so knowing you can “fix” it in the runoff (or ranked preference ballot or whatever).

          • placeholdersz says:

            You realize that is not how first part the post works on this country right?

          • zolstein says:

            Probably not, because she wouldn’t have made it to the post (i.e. the 50% mark). Pretty much everybody who hands out political power on the basis of the popular vote, insists on a run-off or some other sort of tiebreaker if nobody make it to 50% on the first round

            This is just wrong, though it would be sane if true. A voting scheme with a run-off vote is not first-past-the-post, it’s STV, and proper first-past-the-post is common. Maine just passed a ballot initiative to use an instant runoff vote for state elections specifically because they have a history of split votes in gubernatorial elections; current governor LePage was elected the first time with about 38% of the vote. They are, as I understand it, the first state to do this.

          • John Schilling says:

            This is just wrong, though it would be sane if true. A voting scheme with a run-off vote is not first-past-the-post, it’s STV,

            Single Transferrable Vote is generally used to refer to systems where ranked preferences are indicated on the single ballot cast, and FPTP is often used for systems where the expected result is one candidate with a 50% majority but some other system (e.g. a runoff) is used for the rare ties. The usages are ambiguous, and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear.

            and proper first-past-the-post is common.

            If by “proper” first-past-the-post you mean that the candidate with the most votes wins the office whether they got a majority or just a plurality, that is not common for electing heads of government. Mexico is the largest country to do that, South Korea and Iceland are the only first-world nations I see on the list.

            Plurality FTPT is more common for legislative bodies, where the legislatures themselves then have to put together an absolute majority to get anything done (like, e.g., selecting the head of government in a parliamentary system). There is no realistic scenario where the United States elects its president on a simple plurality FPTP.

          • Brad says:

            There is no realistic scenario where the United States elects its president on a simple plurality FPTP.

            While I think any change in our Presidential electoral system is unlikely in the near or medium term future, the least unlikely change would be the adoption of the NPVIC. Hard to see a full blown constitutional amendment as more likely.

            The system the compact contemplates is simple plurality FPTP.

          • tgr says:

            In first-past-the-post elections, the candidate with the most votes wins, period. There is no such thing as “Plurality FTPT”, FPTP is a subtype of plurality voting systems. Terminology nitpicks aside, you are correct that FTPT is not used much for electing presidents. (In fact, the US is unusual in using FPTP at all; most countries use more proportional voting systems.)

    • Brad says:

      Hark! I think I see a nail, surely that hammer will come in handy.

    • Shion Arita says:

      This points to a problem that I see crop up over and over again. People will throw out numbers or data, but someone who doesn’t understand the whole landscape that the data comes from will not be able to interpret its meaning. There’s a reason that controls are needed in scientific experiments. The sort-of-wrong reason people think controls are needed is to avoid false positives. Sure, controls will protect against that. But really what controls do is tell you what the hell your data even IS in the first place. And one of the greatest difficulties in all of science is coming up with appropriate controls for experiments.

      It really annoys me that many people seem to just happily eat up whatever numbers they hear and don’t even think about how you need to know what things usually or like in order to understand what’s going on.

      The quintessential example in my mind of this is this scene from Star Trek the Voyage Home (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-SqHfckym8). That flashes across my mind whenever someone throws out numbers or data without some kind of reference point to give it context. (and I always, like Kirk, immediately ask, “Is that a lot?”)

  9. James Miller says:

    Speaking as a free market economist who is no where near important enough to be considered a ” leading economist” I would have to say uncertain to the question because of the phrase “any private school or public school of their choice”. This would cause some kids to get a horrible education as their parents pick schools that spend no time on academics, and since I don’t know how many parents would do this I can’t reasonably estimate how the average child would do. But there is no way that Trump is going to push vouchers that allow the money to go to any private school if for no other reason then to prevent state funded schools that devote themselves to having students memorize the Qur’an.

    • placeholdersz says:

      I’d note that his education secratary would like to allow these vouchers to be used at some questionable religious schools and homeschooling.

      Whether Trump would support that, or deal with the Islam issue through some unconstitutional state or federal legislation is an open question.

    • cassander says:

      >. This would cause some kids to get a horrible education as their parents pick schools that spend no time on academics

      Good thing that never happens now!

  10. sandorzoo says:

    “I think this is really poor journalistic practice and implies the opinion of the nation’s economists to be the opposite of what it really is. I hope the Times prints a correction.”

    Hahahahahahahahahahaha…..

    This was the first sentence of a 2015 NYT story:

    “SAN FRANCISCO — Luxury condominiums, organic ice cream stores, cafes that serve soy lattes and chocolate shops that offer samples from Ecuador and Madagascar are rapidly replacing 99-cent stores, bodegas and rent-controlled apartments in the Mission District, this city’s working-class Latino neighborhood.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/us/high-rents-elbow-latinos-from-san-franciscos-mission-district.html)

    So “luxury condominiums” are “rapidly replacing” rent-controlled apartments. Pretty much every word of that is false. For “luxury”, although some buildings do include things like in-building gyms and granite countertops, all the units are tiny compared to what we’d think of as a “luxury” residence (traditional “luxury house” line is over 3,000 square feet; a typical unit here might be 600-900). Also, all developers in SF are required to set aside units for low-income people (at their own expense). For “condominiums”, the majority of new units are for-rent, not for-sale. For “rapidly”, housing was being constructed in the Mission at a rate of ~0.3% a year, which means they were building more slowly than the US was during the very bottom of the crash in 2009 (http://www.usfunds.com/media/images/investor-alert/_2013/2013-04-19/Bond-Housing-Starts-041920-lg.gif). For “replacing”, every single building I could get records for (going back to 2010) replaced abandoned warehouses, empty lots, and so on; not one replaced existing residences.

    I actually emailed them to ask for a correction. Here was the reply:

    “Our reporter, Carol Pogash, spent considerable time researching the piece, walking the neighbor [sic] and interviewing residents, both recent and longtime. (…) Both prosperous newcomers as well as people leaving their units talked about the cultural change of the neighborhood and the building of luxury condos instead of affordable housing. In addition, more than 400 demonstrators protested Mission development at a rally last month at city hall against the development. So while our use of the word “replacing” in the lede of our story could have been clearer, I think the piece is clear in its intent — the cultural center of that neighborhood is shifting rapidly.”

    A month later, the NYT published an official statement when angry readers said they had twisted an article (about Reddit) from a neutral news story to a slanted opinion piece:

    “I often hear from readers that they would prefer a straight, neutral treatment — just the facts. But The Times has moved away from that, reflecting editors’ reasonable belief that the basics can be found in many news outlets, every minute of the day. They want to provide “value-added” coverage.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/sunday-review/did-reddit-boss-coverage-cross-a-line-ellen-pao.html)

    The facts are arranged to fit the story, rather than the story being arranged to fit the facts.

    • Reasoner says:

      Yes, this is only about the twentieth time I’ve seen something like this from the NY Times. Apparently they’re pretty open about it internally:

      …it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes. Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”

      It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

      Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”

      The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”

      http://deadline.com/2016/11/shocked-by-trump-new-york-times-finds-time-for-soul-searching-1201852490/

      I trust the WSJ and The Economist more. Incentives matter. Although WSJ journalists do not bet their beliefs, the customers they work to serve do.

      Bloomberg and the Financial Times are the other big players I know of in the “informing investors” space. Do people know of others?

      • tscharf says:

        The “flood the zone” coverage has gotten tiring. This is the primary area where bias is inserted, by choosing what not to cover. Good like finding a story at the NYT where an illegal immigrant committed a crime. They want it both ways, to produce a narrative, and for people to take it as unvarnished truth.

        The NYT election coverage was obscenely biased in total, as was Obama 2008. They like to claim they broke the HRC email story to counter that, but it is more likely the NYT was leaked this story so the left could get ahead of the story and set the narrative, not because the NYT investigated it and found it themselves.

        [Edit] I would probably replace obscenely biased with entirely non-representative.

      • Shion Arita says:

        That quote, if it is an accurate representation of the attitude inside NYT, is absolutely fucking terrifying.

        Mostly because it means that most people involved in there (which probably represent a pretty good slice of humanity) either don’t see what’s wrong with that kind of thinking, or don’t care. I don’t know which is worse.

    • Deiseach says:

      For “condominiums”, the majority of new units are for-rent, not for-sale.

      That does point to them being investment properties; people (or perhaps businesses) buying them in job-lots so they can rent them out. I take your point about all the rest of it, but buying property which you then rent out (to perhaps a high-ish turnover of tenants) is not the same as family homes. And property developers are great at finding loopholes about required social housing/affordable housing to reduce the number and location of such units, because it brings down their margins (and construction/property runs on very tight margins).

      Though I do agree that the tone of the article is a bit holier-than-thou (oh, bodegas, eh? How nice of you to come down amongst the natives in their quaint old-style habitations and public spaces!)

      • The Nybbler says:

        “Bodega” from the New York Times isn’t holier than thou; it’s what a certain type of small grocery store is called by everyone in the New York area.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        @Deiseach:

        And property developers are great at finding loopholes about required social housing/affordable housing to reduce the number and location of such units…

        If you keep saying things like that, we’re going to have to kick you out of the Right-Wing Commenter Dogpile.*

        (* “Dogpile” is the official collective noun for Right-Wing Commenters, like “murder” is for crows (the crows got first pick).)

  11. shorewalker says:

    Scott, you really are missing something, I think.

    The thing you seem to be missing is that The Upshot seems to be in part a contributed comment section – that is, a collection of articles by people from outside the NYT. Dynarski is not a reporter but a U Mich professor. (When I looked at The Upshot’s front page, the first familiar byline I saw was that of the economist Deirdre McLoskey, on top of an article about why US income inequality doesn’t matter in the way many people think it does – a piece that, contra one comment above, certainly doesn’t fit the NYT worldview.)

    Since The Upshot describes itself as containing “news, analysis and graphics about politics, policy and everyday life”, it’s obviously pretty easy to mistake it for a pure news section. Indeed, this is another example of why media should try not to mix news and comment. But I don’t think that it shows the NYT’s news coverage is biased.

    None of this is to say Dynarski is right, but that’s a different issue.

    • suntzuanime says:

      If they’re going to use their brand to promote their shitty outsourced reporting, I feel like their brand should be held accountable for the shittiness of their outsourced reporting. If they’re going to slap the NYT label on bullshit, people need to know to expect bullshit under the NYT label.

      • shorewalker says:

        There’s a good argument that the NYT should pay a price for the error of running external comment pieces that are both poorly flagged as comment pieces and also underpinned by dodgy data.

        But that error is not the error of which Scott and other people seem to be accusing them here – Scott talks of “poor journalistic practices” and “misreporting” – and the price they should pay for their actual sins is arguably a lesser one than the price that would be appropriate if they’d made an error in their own reporting.

        There’s also something disturbing about hoeing into a media outlet for getting the facts wrong when most people here seem to be getting the underlying facts wrong themselves.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The data isn’t dodgy (or, hell, it may be, but that’s not the point of the post). The interpretation is dodgy. That’s what Scott and other people are accusing them of, and they are 100% correct to do so. It is a pretty poor fucking journalistic practice to run other people’s bullshit under your name, wouldn’t you say? The fact that the bullshit originates with, basically, an outside contractor rather than an NYT staffer isn’t really relevant.

          • shorewalker says:

            My bad. You are right to say that it’s Dynarski’s interpretation that looks suspect, or the data itself.

            But this is why the distinction between news and commentary is important. Dynarski is a leader in her field, so when she is citing data, there’s a point past which the NYT opinion editors are not going to argue with her. Outside expert commentators are not merely outsourced reporters; they are a different sort of contributor, and by necessity they play by different rules.

            This problem of how far you as an editor ask your commentators to justify their opinions is a tough one. I’m a working editor, and my answer – which is on the tough end of the spectrum – is to put them through the wringer. I hope and believe I would have flagged the problem Scott discusses.

            But to call it “misreporting” is, well, misreporting. It’s something else – a failure of editing, and an outside expert’s flawed interpretation of data.

            Update (because WordPress is out of reply levels): I particularly agree with Ilya below on the need for the left to start taking fact-claims and sloppiness more seriously.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I am sorry, this is not an esoteric point of statistics. The author either read a chart wrong, or deliberately lied with a chart. Anyone with a high school education, NYT editors included, ought to be able to spot the problem, or they have no business being in the press business.

            edit: I think the optimistic take on this whole Trump disaster with attendant subdisasters is it is a chance for the left to really clean house and stop being so sloppy. Do better, and a lot of problems disappear.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It’s hard to believe that the left’s problems spring from a lack of concern for accuracy when the president-elect cut his teeth in politics accusing people of being secret Kenyans and having participated in the Kennedy assassination. Fastidiousness doesn’t sell, preposterous lies sell.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            The left’s problems this year stem from the fact that Clinton was so weak she managed to lose to Trump (almost certainly with a bit of help from a cast of characters). But how did those characters manage to help Trump?

            Clinton had done enough stuff in her long tenure that enough spaghetti stuck to the wall. If she conducted herself better, we wouldn’t have a problem. Putin’s a predator, and like all predators attacks weakness. So don’t be weak.

            I am not sure I see exactly what you are saying, but if it’s “let’s race people making things up outright to the bottom” then I am going to have to disagree.

            edit: I hear some folks on the right are now clamoring for the guy who had a problem with flying with Ivanka to lose his job. Where did they learn that maneuver?

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s the editor who puts the headline on the piece, though, and Scott is arguing that the headline misrepresents the body of the story which itself slants the interpretation of the data.

          Really, this is one more example of “reporters not getting science right”, except in this case it’s an academic doing a write-up of a study, which is possibly even more depressing to contemplate: nobody uses statistics correctly!

    • Protagoras says:

      So it’s like the WSJ editorial page? The presence of nonsense in this section shouldn’t automatically make us distrustful of the rest?

  12. Matt M says:

    “The odds are good that privatizing education will be part of the agenda for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration.”

    Is anyone at the NYT willing to bet on this?

    Not that he will succeed, but that he will even make a serious attempt to create a national educational voucher system. I find this incredibly unlikely, yet they just throw it out there with no real attribution or explanation.

    • SEE says:

      I don’t think Trump will attempt to create a nationwide voucher system, but with Betsy DeVos as his pick for DoE, I suspect there will be significant effort toward “privatizing education”, including promoting vouchers. Don’t exclude the middle.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not excluding the middle, they are.

        In any other context “privatize” usually means “the government sells off all assets of X type in order to no longer be involved with X type asset at all.” Does anyone think Trump, at any point, will even subtly hint at the idea that he wants that? Much less clearly state he wants that, or, even less likely, take steps to make that happen?

        • placeholdersz says:

          That is not the only definition of privatizing, as your comment acknowledges.

          • Matt M says:

            Right, which is why I’m willing to compromise and place a bet on strong advocation for a national voucher system. I think the odds of Trump even doing that is very remote, and even that falls well short of what “privatization” actually means by any reasonable definition.

          • placeholdersz says:

            I guess we can disagree on wherher the process of moving from public to private educational institutions counts as privatization.

            How much he’ll do in that regard is up in the air. Though I would say his Ed secratary pick provides a hint.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know much about DeVos. Has she ever publicly advocated for wholesale privatization, under the common/conventional definition?

          • placeholdersz says:

            You keep implying that the common/conventional definition (which I’ll conceed for now) is the way it should be read, but without providing any support that it should be read with that definition in this context.

          • Matt M says:

            When in doubt, it seems like we should expect words to be used as their common usage or literal usage would dictate, yes?

            The “context” that exists which might suggest an alternate usage here is, in fact, “the New York Times is talking about Trump and we know that they are biased against them so we expect them to manipulate language so as to imply he supports positions that are a lot more extreme than he actually does”

            If something can only be true if you use the non-traditional definition of a word, that probably says something about what you’re up to…

          • placeholdersz says:

            When we talk about the privatization of prisons are at talking about selling prisons? No. We are talking about taking a service formerly provided by the government and moving the provision of that service to private corporations. Kind of like privatizing public education. The process of privatizing has more than one definition.

          • Viliam says:

            We are talking about taking a service formerly provided by the government and moving the provision of that service to private corporations.

            Perhaps “outsource” could be the proper verb here.

            privatization = when the government no longer owns X

            outsourcing = when the government owns X, but someone else operates it

          • placeholdersz says:

            Except people (rightly) use it in the way I just described. See also privatizing social security, NHS, etc.

            Ed. Outsource could also be used, though the question is whether it is dishonest to use privatization. In my opinion it is not.

          • Tibor says:

            Viliam: that’s a good description. Very loosely continuing on an old discussion here where I suggested that the NSDAP was socialist (after all they called themselves national socialist) it would probably be much clearer and more accurate for me to call their regime (or any fascist regime) “outsourced socialism”. I think a lot of damage is done when such outsourcing is seen as the free market and when it fails the free market is blamed. That said, sometimes the outsourcing, if done correctly, might work better than direct socialism, but it might work just as bad or even worse if done wrong (for example giving a legal monopoly for public transport or the waterworks in your city to a private company is quite possibly going to work worse than having it run by the city government)

          • A voucher progam isn’t quite “taking a service formerly provided by the government and moving the provision of that service to private corporations.” It’s rather taking a service previously provided by the government with a government subsidy and privately without a subsidy and making the subsidy available to both public and private providers. Part of the theory is that the competition will improve the public providers.

            Also, a point not clear in the first description, it’s moving control over what is provided from the government to the customers. Parents can send their kids to public schools if they think the public schools do a better job, and they can choose among whatever private schools are available. One of the arguments offered against vouchers is that parents cannot be trusted to make that decision for their kids.

          • Brad says:

            One of the arguments offered against vouchers is that parents cannot be trusted to make that decision for their kids.

            I don’t think that quite captures the argument.

            If public schooling were a pure giveway of private benefit from government to children, then yes it’d be a matter of who is in the best position to choose what will be the most beneficial for each child.

            But public funding of education is, at least in part, justified as benefiting the public at large. Thus the argument isn’t that parents cannot be trusted to make the best decision vis-a-vis their own kids, but rather that they can’t be trusted to make a decision that balances the interests of their kids with that of society at large.

            When framed properly it is a quite reasonable argument. Why would we expect any parent to take society’s interests into account at all?

          • Tekhno says:

            But what exactly society’s interests are is up for grabs through democracy, so it’s kind of circular. The interests of society aren’t something objective and fixed that exists prior to using the best methods we have to discover what they are. Maybe society’s interests are to have everyone choose individually with only regard to their own children?

          • Brad says:

            Maybe society’s interests are to have everyone choose individually with only regard to their own children?

            Maybe it is — but if you want to convince me of it, you should argue that explicitly instead of simply assuming it and from that assumption drawing unflattering conclusions about what people that oppose vouchers must believe.

          • Mary says:

            “but rather that they can’t be trusted to make a decision that balances the interests of their kids with that of society at large.”

            In what way should the parents choose to sacrifice the children’s best interests in the matter of school to society at large? And how does society benefit from such a sacrifice?

      • cassander says:

        > I suspect there will be significant effort toward “privatizing education”, including promoting vouchers. Don’t exclude the middle.

        what does this mean, in practical policy terms?

        • SEE says:

          There are lots of ways to condition DoE dollars on states adopting educational policies more friendly to private schools and homeschooled students, and allocate DoE dollars to support private and home schooling, well short of establishing a single national-level voucher plan.

          You can reduce K-12 dollars to states that don’t adopt the “Tim Tebow rule”, allowing homeschooled kids to participate in public school extracurricular programs. You can offer extra Federal dollars to places with voucher programs. You can reduce funding to schools in states with powerful teachers’ unions, encouraging weakening of those unions and thus undermining the teachers’ unions’ ability to fight voucher programs. You can subject public schools in voucher areas to lighter Federal regulation on the grounds that students in districts without vouchers need more protection than in ones where their parents can yank them from the schools. You can . . . well.

          There are all sorts of things, well short of imposing a one-size-fits-all national voucher program against the opposition of many states, to push things in a privatizing direction.

          • cassander says:

            >There are lots of ways to condition DoE dollars on states adopting educational policies more friendly to private schools and homeschooled students, and allocate DoE dollars to support private and home schooling, well short of establishing a single national-level voucher plan.

            I’m not sure how much could done in this regard without new legislation, given that only about 10% of education spending is federal and most of that is tied into fairly specific programs.

            > You can . . . well.

            All of that would take fairly substantial legislation and probably new spending. And the idea of undermining teachers unions the way you suggest is not plausible.

          • SEE says:

            Given how effective current Federal education spending was at gaining compliance with both No Child Left Behind and Common Core, even with substantial resistance to each, I think you seriously undercredit the Federal influence on K-12.

            Certainly, there would have to be legislative action to enable much of it. Who suggested such a push would be done without any legislation?

            And maybe it reaches “implausible” because the marginal members of the current majority in Congress are too worried about the resulting fight hurting their chances of re-election, but reducing funding to states that don’t, say, establish “right-to-work” for school teachers would certainly be in the GOP’s long-term interest as an institution. The NEA and its state-level affiliates are major institutional bulwarks of the Democratic Party; weakening them just for the sake of weakening them would be good for the GOP.

          • cassander says:

            NCLB was major new, and not uncontroversial, legislation, not regulatory tweaks. Common Core was pushed mostly at the state level by a huge amount of money and lobbying from the Gates Foundation. I don’t think either is a good model for what trump will do.

            >Who suggested such a push would be done without any legislation?

            You didn’t mention legislation, but what sounded like regulatory tweaks. apologies if I misunderstood.

            >And maybe it reaches “implausible” because the marginal members of the current majority in Congress are too worried about the resulting fight hurting their chances of re-election, but reducing funding to states that don’t, say, establish “right-to-work” for school teachers would certainly be in the GOP’s long-term interest as an institution.

            It would be, but they’re rarely that clever.

    • placeholdersz says:

      Part of the agenda can include any number of policies intended to promote it’s adoption.

    • I think the Trump administration will be pro-voucher, but it isn’t clear what they can actually do about it, beyond supporting the D.C. voucher program. More important is the Republican dominance in state government, which is where the voucher fight has to be won.

      What I have been hoping is that it will occur to some Democrats that, given how badly they are doing, they should be looking at substantial modifications of their product. Vouchers arguably should be popular with the left–I believe the early effort in Calfornia, which failed, was largely backed by people left of center. Switching from opposing vouchers to supporting them might be a way of increasing electoral support for Democrats.

    • tscharf says:

      This is similar to the “privatizing Social Security” meme. Not actively fighting vouchers or supporting an option for communities to implement vouchers is intentionally conflated with privatizing education in its entirety. There is a rather large zone between education must be government and education must be private.

  13. Matt M says:

    To mildly defend the NYT on this though – this particular practice of manipulating the “unsure/unanswered” section of poll responses is incredibly common and is used by all sides of every issue fairly frequently IMO.

    There’s probably some sort of right-leaning source out there with a headline like “73% of economists say school vouchers won’t make education worse”

    To provide a non-political example, a hockey blog I read that typically advocates for the NHL to ban fighting recently cited a poll of fans on the issue of whether a ban on fighting would cause them to watch more, watch less, or watch the same amount. These numbers aren’t exact, but they’re directionally about right from memory – the result was something like 51% watch the same amount, 25% watch more, 24% watch less. The anti-fighting blog ran with the headline “Most fans say a fighting ban wouldn’t cause them to watch less.” Which, of course, is technically accurate, but completely and entirely misses the point on whether a fighting ban would be good for the NHL or not.

    • AnonEEmous says:

      hold the phone

      “The anti-fighting blog ran with the headline “Most fans say a fighting ban wouldn’t cause them to watch less.” Which, of course, is technically accurate,”

      Not only is it technically accurate, but it’s also highly relevant. If 76% of fans would not be bothered by a ban on fighting, then you can ban fighting without angering most of your fans, i.e. 76%. And apparently the 24% that would watch less are balanced by the 25% that are. Sure, you could maybe argue that the 24% who like fights are special somehow – the NHL’s biggest fans, or something – but that’s kind of outside of the scope of the data, isn’t it? The best-case argument you have is that it “misses the point”, but they’re making their own point right now. I don’t think it’s dishonest to advance other lines of reasoning, even if they’re not the ones you find relevant, right?

      • Matt M says:

        The point is, failing to control for any other factor, a fighting ban would result in less fans watching in total, as the amount who would watch less exceeds the amount who would watch more (granted, by a very small amount).

        Prior to this survey, this blog regularly took the position that fighting was “driving fans away” and that a ban would surely increase viewership. They then twisted the survey data to fit this narrative by reporting it as “most fans wouldn’t stop watching” rather than admit the truth, which is “a fighting ban is quite unlikely to increase ratings after all”

        I will actually concede that within the meat of the survey, there were, in fact, reasons to suggest that a fighting ban might be a reasonable idea (younger fans, more committed fans, and richer fans generally leaned towards “would watch more” by a small, but statistically significant margin) but the headline and lead paragraph was still designed to mislead.

        • AnonEEmous says:

          “The point is, failing to control for any other factor, a fighting ban would result in less fans watching in total, as the amount who would watch less exceeds the amount who would watch more (granted, by a very small amount).”

          Actually, it looks like the 1% gap goes the other way around. But the point is that the headline is still totally accurate under that assumption! So in what way does that make it a lie or dishonest?

          “Prior to this survey, this blog regularly took the position that fighting was “driving fans away” and that a ban would surely increase viewership.”

          Then maybe this blog is guilty of lacking a coherent viewpoint and instead advancing multiple lines of thought towards an ideological goal. Probably it is. I don’t think that makes the solid line of reasoning dishonest, though. Maybe on a very meta level.

          “They then twisted the survey data to fit this narrative by reporting it as “most fans wouldn’t stop watching” rather than admit the truth, which is “a fighting ban is quite unlikely to increase ratings after all””

          But this has more to do with their overall meta-narrative than it does the particular survey. You’re right that, if they are pushing a fighting ban as a panacea, then they have been proven wrong, and maybe they should say that. But I don’t know, it still seems like a very accurate headline.

          “I will actually concede that within the meat of the survey, there were, in fact, reasons to suggest that a fighting ban might be a reasonable idea (younger fans, more committed fans, and richer fans generally leaned towards “would watch more” by a small, but statistically significant margin) but the headline and lead paragraph was still designed to mislead.”

          No, I think there’s maybe a lack of internal honesty on their part, but I don’t think this article is a deception. It may render their other articles deceptions, but this one? Not buying it.

          • Matt M says:

            Whoops, sorry, I messed that up in my first post. I meant to say that “watch less” exceeded “watch more” by 1%

    • grendelkhan says:

      I remember this from the Obamacare debate. Well, the first Obamacare debate.

      Here’s the CNN poll. Opinion broke down to 43% believing it was too liberal, 39% just right, 13% not liberal enough. This was reported as “New CNN Poll: 59% Oppose Obamacare”. You could just as easily say that 52% believed that we should have Obamacare or something stronger. I remember seeing this poll everywhere that year.

      (Also, the comments there–“Our senators and congressmen have commited treason against our country and its people. Come November they must be voted out of office. They are on the same level as Hitler, using the same tactics he did.”–add a little perspective to the recent complaints that the left is too easily riled up, and this is why the right is ascendant.)

  14. Yakimi says:

    More and more, I find myself thinking that freedom of the press is but the freedom to engorge ourselves on a banquet of lies.

    • Reasoner says:

      Yeah, but what’s the alternative? A Ministry of Truth?

      We might already have a group like that: Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee. You can create a Wikipedia account and build up an edit history to vote on committee appointments. Wikipedia’s elections are pretty obscure, so your per-vote impact is high.

      (Fun fact: David Gerard of RationalWiki fame once served on Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee)

  15. Tekhno says:

    In a hypothetical world where all sources were biased what could rationalism as a movement do? If all data was being mangled to fit an agenda, and there was no such thing as neutrality, then you’d either have to just pick a side and cross your fingers or become a radical empiricist gathering your own data with no middlemen.

    Thankfully we don’t live in that world.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Well, in this case, you can just do what Scott did and consult the primary source. In my opinion, that’s the way to treat this world we live in. The media mangles the analysis to fit their agenda but they mostly present the data as is. So ignore the fnords, ignore the people trying to tell you what it means and give you context, just look at the facts, the raw data they present from specified sources in the service of the narrative they’re trying to push. It’s a lot less likely to be completely at odds with reality.

      Sometimes the data is “scientific” studies which have also mangled their analysis to fit an agenda, and those can be harder to filter out. And sometimes their source is a quote from an analyst, who will have another agenda, and you have to figure out whether to trust that analyst. But it’s at least a starting point for the practice of mediamancy.

      • ResonantPyre says:

        Yeah, I just worry that other websites can cite the New York Times for this and the claim can spiral far outside of the ability to neatly check it like this. Once we’re a couple websites removed, and now people are citing another legitimate website that makes this claim (perhaps originally citing a website that in turn cited NYT) it’s not so easy to confirm or deny.

        I remember reading that somebody made a presidential fact website a while back and just invented one a fact about one of the presidents. After they had it up for long enough, other people compiling presidential facts cited it for their websites, and eventually it made its way into some sort of clickbait “top ten facts” article.

        That was just a inane presidential fact, and at least NYT cites evidence so we can actually confirm it. But imagine if they had cited a figure found in a book. How many people are going to pull up the book to actually confirm that what they are saying isn’t misleading?

        Noam Chomsky wrote a book called “Manufacturing Consent” that Scott has a good review about. This is the blurb that best describes it pulled of the wiki:

        It proposes that the mass communication media of the U.S. “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion” by means of the propaganda model of communication.

        I worry that information can be manufactured, to a lesser extent. Obviously with more politically oriented information, you have the other side to check it. It does give me worries though, the NYT is a very “legitimate” institution; I wouldn’t be surprised if people have already cited this claim they made in an even more misleading way.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I mean, I have no idea what to do about other people. I sort of expect that they will do damn fool things at all hours of the day. I guess this is where rationalism as a movement comes in? If we all join hands and write enough debunking articles, we can end up competing with Snopes and Politifact and falling prey to the same hubris that epistemically destroyed them.

        • I remember reading that somebody made a presidential fact website a while back and just invented one a fact about one of the presidents.

          A famous old example of this was Mencken’s bathtub hoax.

    • Reasoner says:

      The first step is to recognize you have a problem. When enough people realize there is a problem, we can begin the task of creating trustworthy institutions.

    • ChetC3 says:

      I’d think step one would be double-checking that your reasoning is sound and valid. If you can’t be bothered to do that, there was nothing rationalist about your movement in the first place.

  16. 3rd says:

    The getstungbymillionsofwasps link in the sidebar redirects to a sketchy place that tells me I’ve won an iPhone. It’s better than the wasps, but still not great.

  17. MawBTS says:

    But economists are far less optimistic about what an unfettered market can achieve in education.

    That part’s annoying too. We have little idea on what Trump wants to do re: education (they admit it themselves earlier in the article) but let’s just throw the word “unfettered” in there.

  18. I want to offer an entirely different response, not to the news story but to the poll. Not all economists, not even all competent economists, really believe in economics.

    I’m thinking of a friend and colleague from long ago, a mathematical economist. I expect he could have gotten a good grade on any reasonable economics exam. But he was only an economist in working hours. His personal opinion on most issues was based not on what economic arguments suggested but on what he wanted to believe for other reasons.

    It was possible for him to do that without being dishonest or even internally inconsistent, because economic arguments rarely imply a conclusion with certainty. With a little ingenuity, one can usually think up some special case in which the conclusion doesn’t hold. This fits Dan Kahan’s evidence that, where a position has become a marker of group membership, the more intellectually able an individual is the more likely he is to agree with his group, whether that means believing in evolution or not believing in evolution.

    In the case of Uber, there is no reason why any significant number of economists would want to believe it is bad, so one would expect most of them to go along with the obvious economic arguments in its favor. But public schools are a very well established institution in our society, vouchers are bitterly opposed by the teachers’ unions, which are one of the most powerful groups in the Democratic party, and academic economists are quite likely to be liberal Democrats and even more likely to interact largely with liberal Democrats.

    An economist who views economics as what he does for a living not how he views the world and moves in circles where vouchers are unpopular will be understandably reluctant to say he is in favor of them.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Maybe he cared about other things than efficiency in his off hours? (Honest question).

      • I don’t think that was it. Economics doesn’t imply that efficiency is all that matters. In various of my books I discuss why efficiency is only an imperfect proxy for utility and why it isn’t even obvious that utility is the appropriate maximand.

        But economics does imply that one should expect, although not with certainty, certain causes to have certain effects. Someone can believe in economics and still support higher minimum wages. He might believe the relevant elasticity is low enough to make that a less inefficient way of transferring income to poor people than any other that is politically viable–the theory implies less employment for poor people, but their average wage might go up by more than the employment rate went down (proportionally in both cases). He might believe that pushing someone out of a $7.50/hour job onto welfare is a net plus, along the lines some here argue about a future where much of the labor force is superfluous.

        But someone who doesn’t think the usual result of a rise in the minimum wage is a reduction in the employment rate of low skill workers almost certainly doesn’t believe in economics. There’s actually a pretty good interview with David Card, co-author of the study that is usually cited to show that economics doesn’t show that, which makes it pretty clear that he does believe in economics and doesn’t support large increases in the minimum wage, although he thinks small increases might have a negligible effect.

        I’ve only known one economist ingenious enough to offer persuasive arguments for why obvious implications of economics are wrong, and I suspect his motive was less support for his political views than the fun of crafting ingenious arguments. Unfortunately he’s no longer alive.

        • thetitaniumdragon says:

          Beyond inelasticity of demand, another issue is whether or not, by exporting low-wage jobs, you can basically force people into higher-paying jobs that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

          While economics: red in tooth and claw is popular, in reality, a lot of businesses (especially smaller ones) will avoid risks if they’re making reasonable profits. If you make it so that an old economic model is no longer viable, suddenly the risk of staying the way you were before is “you go out of business”, so you’re incentivized to take risks. This is even more true of employees.

          If your people are not taking enough risks, pushing people to take risks may be better for your economy. Of course, all of this is predicated on people not just giving up, so you’d probably want to combine your program with propaganda that the economy is doing well, so it is a good time to make a new business/expand it to encourage people to take that risk.

          Moreover, if the result is increased automation at the lower end of things, we’re not really losing anything; the net work done is the same, but we now have a few more jobs for people building WalMart stocking robots, which increases the total production of the economy; even if you have more people out of work, you’re not any poorer as a society (and may actually be richer, if the real barrier was high capital costs on the robots which are now overcome by requiring higher wages).

          After all, if you have the choice between paying a bunch of money up front for automation vs paying people low wages, if you raise the wages, you push people in favor of automation. High capital costs relative to low labor costs can push you in the direction of employing people over machines; the higher labor costs get, the more incentive there is to automate and the lower the relative annoyance of paying a bunch of money up front for better capital goods to automate gets.

          Another issue is whether or not growth is being constrained by lack of quality free workers; if a certain fraction of unemployed people are fundamentally unemployable (i.e. no one wants them because they’re lazy/don’t show up on time/can’t get along with people/ect and thus end up in constant job churn), generating additional unemployed people who [i]are[/i] employable may be beneficial to your economy. You might be encouraged to do projects you aren’t going to do otherwise because, hey, you’ve got people you can hire who will do them who will actually do their jobs. This is especially true for potentially otherwise undesirable work that people might otherwise be “too good for”, but when the alternative is not having a job (as opposed to having a lower-paying job) they might be willing to take it (after all, higher pay – unpleasantness might not be better than a low wage, but it is probably better than nothing).

          I’m not necessarily arguing that all of this is true, mind you, but all of these are potentially real reactions. Obviously raising minimum wage by too much is going to cause problems. However, on the other hand, Australia has a $13 USD/hour minimum wage but their unemployment rate is only 5.6% last I checked – higher than ours, to be sure, but much lower than many countries and indeed, comparable to much of the South.

    • cassander says:

      I used to work as an RA for a professor at George Mason. She liked to point out how many of her fellow professors slavishly adhered to Tyler Cowen’s logic when it came to finding good ethnic restaurants, but utterly rejected it when it came to politics.

      • Reasoner says:

        If there was a single economics department in the country that was mostly made up of decompartmentalizing economists, I’d expect it to be either the University of Chicago or GMU. (Still holding out for the University of Chicago!)

        • Probably true, but Chicago seems to have swung pretty far in the direction of math over economics, unfortunately. The introductory course is still good, as reported to me by a student who took it (and I’ve also talked with the teacher), but beyond that not so much, as reported by two sources.

          I’ve been saying for some time that GMU is the best not yet famous econ department. A few years back I arranged to visit for a quarter in order to interact with people there, which was fun.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      This goes both ways, really. I’d assume liberal academics living in cities probably use Uber and like using it.

      I once read a piece by a newspaper columnist that amounted to “I ride Uber every day! Uber is awesome and much better and cheaper than regular taxi service, because there is this awesome app! The government is just a big meanie for complaining about its drivers not paying taxes, likewise the traditional taxi service who complains that Uber makes profits because Uber can efficiently break law unlike them; they don’t see this is the future! We should Uberize everything!”

      I was very surprised that people would so nonchalantly argue that company gaining an unfair advantage over its competitors because they brazenly disregard the law is good thing, just because it has a cool phone app. I doubt it’s a stable position.

      As a more general point, accusation that some particular position held by someone is irrational group signaling smells like playing mind games, not an honest argument against that position.

    • Aapje says:

      @DavidFriedman

      Does ‘believing in economics’ mean that you have to favor market outcomes or does it mean that you have to believe in market mechanisms?

      I sense that for you it means the former, while for me, science is about understanding, but not being a slave to that understanding. In other words: science gives you the tools to understand how cause results in effect, which one can use to achieve desired effects by intervening (changing the causes). So if you use economics predict that a free market results in X and you want Y to happen instead, you can deliberately choose to disrupt the free market in ways that make the outcome closer to Y. You can only do this because you believe in economics and its predictions.

      I fundamentally disagree that believing in economics means that you have to like X, which is an ethics question, not an economics question.

      My complaint about a lot of economists is that they do what you do: favor free markets and pretend that this is the most ethical choice, while ignoring that the premises underlying this preference are subjective and debatable (for example, it is highly debatable whether a choice that results in better average outcomes is ethically better than making the worst outcomes better).

      • Tibor says:

        I’d say that the problem is when your science tells you that very likely “X will cause Y” and in your non-professional life you act as though X did not cause Y, since you can always find circumstances under which X indeed does not cause Y – the trouble is that those circumstances are unlikely.

        There is a difference between “Yes, X causes Y but it also causes Z and since we don’t want Z and want Y, we need to have a bit less of Y and reduce the harmful amount of Z” and “X causes Z and since it does not cause Y in every scenario imaginable, we will pretend it does not cause Y at all”.

      • Does ‘believing in economics’ mean that you have to favor market outcomes or does it mean that you have to believe in market mechanisms?

        Neither. It means seeing the economic approach to human behavior as an important way of making sense of the world and so basing your view of the world in large part on it.

        That includes economic arguments about when and why markets produce outcomes you don’t approve of. I spend a chapter of the third edition of my first book discussing ways in which the institutions I am arguing for, market production of law, can be expected to produce inefficient outcomes–for economic reasons.

    • Controls Freak says:

      Dan Kahan’s evidence that, where a position has become a marker of group membership, the more intellectually able an individual is the more likely he is to agree with his group

      I think there is probably some aspect of this going on, but in the times that I’ve looked at Kahan’s work in the past, I wasn’t convinced that he captured it. IIRC, one of the main ways he captured data on the effect was to establish general mathematics knowledge, and then provide a simple statistics problem. One group would get a control question on something like the effectiveness of skin cream, and the other would get a politicized question on something like the effectiveness of gun control. The statistics would be very very simplified.

      As an academic researcher, we’re trained to poke holes in work, find flawed assumptions, and pounce on inappropriate controls or lack of appropriate ones. If someone giving a survey asked me a statistics question about something completely politically-neutral (say, skin cream), it’s like a standardized exam question to me. I know it’s probably made up; I don’t care; you’re probably interested in statistics; I can pump out an answer.

      On the other hand, if you ask a politically-charged question and provide me with anything but extremely good data, I’m going to assume that you’re trying to make a shitty political point. I will probably discount the actual data you give me unless you detail your controls, show why it’s not cherry-picking, etc. If you have an option for “no idea”, I might take it. If I believe I have background knowledge of good statistics that contradict what seems to be a political point you’re making with shitty statistics, I might give your study the middle finger and just go with my background knowledge, completely disregarding whatever data you give. If you preface your question with, “These numbers are totally made up and aren’t necessarily reflective of actual data; we’re just trying to gauge statistical ability,” I might back down my hackles. I’d love to see the study run again with a group getting that preface.

      Of course, if you know of other papers by him that are less likely to fall into this trap, I’d love a linky link so I could put them on my reading list.

      • Dan has written a bunch of papers using various measures of intellectual ability. When I asked him which to cite in the relevant bit of my present book, he suggested choosing a few from:

        Kahan, D.M. & Stanovich, K.E. Rationality & Belief in Human Evolution. APPC/CCP Working Paper No. 5 (Sept. 14, 2016).
        Kahan, D.M., & Corbin, J. A, Note on the perverse effects of Actively Open-minded Thinking on climate change polarization. Res. & Politcs (in press)
        Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Dawson, E. & Slovic, P., Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self Government.Behavioural Pub. Poly’ (in press).
        Kahan, D.M., ‘Ordinary science intelligence’: a science-comprehension measure for study of risk and science communication, with notes on evolution and climate change. J. Risk Res., 1-22 (2016).
        Kahan, D.M., Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Political Psychology 36, 1-43 (2015).
        Kahan, D.M., Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making 8, 407-424 (2013).
        Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L.L., Braman, D. & Mandel, G., The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change 2, 732-735 (2012).
        Kahan DM, Landrum AR, Carpenter K, Helft L, and Jamieson KH, Science curiosity and po-litical information processing (in press). Advances in Political Psychology.

  19. TomA says:

    Scott:

    If you were treating a patient that exhibited these types of events as symptoms (e.g. chronic dissonance in the workplace), would you diagnose it as a psychosis? Can an institutional mindset evolve a psychosis?

  20. cschlom says:

    Are you serious? Having looked at both the responses to the vouchers question and the ridesharing question, your post (which only shows the responses to one question) comes off as a lot more misleading than the NYT article. Economists’ responses to the two questions *are* markedly different – that’s exactly what NYT is saying!

    • ChetC3 says:

      Inaccuracy is only objectionable when the side with more Cathedralist privilege is at fault. When Cathedralist pundits play fast and loose with facts and arguments, it’s a serious ethical lapse. When pundits of the resistance do it, it’s just a facet of their refreshingly vigorous prose style and shouldn’t be held against them.

      • thetitaniumdragon says:

        The problem is that his summary is utter bullshit and gives a more misleading impression than the article itself does. The headline suggests that most economists don’t buy school vouchers. The data… says the same thing (less than 40% do).

        Compared to 90% for Uber, that suggests a huge difference. It would be equally accurate to say “only about a third as many economists support school vouchers as support Uber”. It would give a better impression of the data than his statement.

  21. j2kun says:

    > A more accurate way to summarize this graph is “About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t.”

    Definitely not “more accurate” than the statement preceding it, since the same statement is true if only 2% of economists were in favor, 1% against, and the rest undecided.

    If you’re a conservative person, then you would take note that 2/3 or economists are against or uncertain, and you would take uncertainty as support of non-action. Or am I mistaken with the conservative interpretation of the world?

    • ShemTealeaf says:

      Agreed; I think Scott’s proposed rephrasing isn’t that much less misleading than the NYT’s phrasing.

      Ultimately, when you have a survey result where over a third of the respondents were undecided, any summary that doesn’t explicitly acknowledge that fact is going to be misleading.

  22. Brandon Berg says:

    If you scroll down, you can actually read the comments from the economists who disagreed. Note that disagreements mostly boil down to concerns that students with parents who choose not to take advantage of the vouchers would be left behind at public schools, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.

    That said, this is a very small sample. There were only 23 respondents who answered something other than “uncertain”

  23. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    Thought Experiment: what if the Daily Planet hired Laplace’s Demon, and then broadcast every facet of the universe to each person’s brain 24/7.

    This is obviously infeasible, since humans have limited attention. The next best system would be for the Daily Planet to select the most important news. But how does the Daily Planet decide which information to report and which to filter out? With a bias.

    From what I understand of machine learning, linear decision algorithms are described by the form f(x) = w x + b. The b stands for bias. This is apparently a technical term. If such an AI were to filter newsfeeds, the question would not be whether it had a bias, but what scalars composed the bias vector.

    From this, I conclude that bias is a fact of life. And since all media are biased in their own way, we might as well accept this and publically associate a bias to each brand. You like NYT? Neat. I’m more of a rum kind of guy.

    ——-

    It can be argued that the NYT was reporting in good faith. Though perhaps unstated, it appears the thesis was that economists had low confidence in a hypothetical voucher system. But Scotty interpretted the negative valence of the low reported confidence to impute negative valence of the voucher proposal per se. How do we reconcile this?

    Locutive != illocutive != perloctive. We outsource our news for a reason. Nobody has time to read every single statistic. It is a feature not a bug that the media weaves a narrative out of the numbers for us, because doing it ourselves costs an enormous amount of attention.

    Is it coincidence that the NYT phrased their article such that someone like Scott might interpret their thesis in a more favorable light than warranted? Of course not. Of course the NYT mentioned “pro-voucher” stat, but not the other six radio boxes in the economists’ survey. That’s where the NYT’s attention naturally gravitated towards. The typical reader doesn’t want the irrelevant information.

    That’s how bias works. That’s how media works. Corporate America is functioning as expected. Everything adds up to normal. So some info was scrambled through the game of telephone. And this is bad? No, that’s part of the fermentation process.

  24. nimim.k.m. says:

    Am I banned? I don’t seem to be able to post comments.

    So top-level comments do work. But replies in threads don’t. Curious.

    So I guess my post below was stuck in some kind of word filter?

  25. nimim.k.m. says:

    (This actually would be a reply to this.)

    A large segment says that they are uncertain whether it would improve or not improve (negation of course covers quite much ground like “stay same” or “recede”, which is a bit weasel-y on survey designer’s part, but on the other hand, it’s also not “agree”, because there is separate option for that). There is support, but the amount of support isn’t overwhelmingly clear-cut. Especially a claim “economists mostly support” would be also a misrepresentation (maybe even more so), because the majority of respondents don’t agree with the statement.

    Claims of lying and untrue news and whatnot we’ve already seen in the comment section are clearly overblown.

    The lesson is: there usually is no accurate way to summarize a distribution. And better question would have been “what effect you think vouchers would have on education: a) positive, b) no change, c) negative”.

    Though finally, I am not even sure if any surveys (better worded or not) would be that useful. Devil’s in the details of what kind of voucher system you want to install, what kind of network of schools there is, and how it would develop in the response of the vouchers, etc. And (as demonstrated by previous discussions about this here) given the tendency of people arguing for it base their arguments on very …err… pure economist theory (that does not take into account e.g. the social and communal benefits of having a common school in neighborhood) and on evidence drawn from totally different markets, such as groceries … more I study economics, more I doubt the economists would fare much better than we here.

  26. john says:

    Hi scott,
    I like your articles. I have one thought. Your conclusion is based in my opinion on the same ‘tric’ the NYT is doing. Yes, they suggest the wrong idea, but your idea suggests the opposite. But both are wrong, i think. There is no conclusion to report, except there is no majority anyway is this case. Besides, it is an extreme complicated matter with lots of buts, i think a lot of different questions will have a lot of different perspectives. What prior evidence is there?
    In other articles you say: ‘ we don’t know, let’s try it out’, I think that is the best answer.
    Is this case you suggest the populair ‘fake’ news angle. Maybe, but maybe it is just bad statistical stupidity. I would like to judge this in the proper context of prior articles of the same writer or the NYT in general. You put a lot of wood on the fire this way, rather bold. Not my impression of your normal balanced way of analysing.

  27. educationrealist says:

    Economists are pro-free trade and pro-choice, so asking their opinions should be a pointless endeavor. I would have expected a much higher certainty for choice, even given the small sample.

    That so many of them are uncertain is news, and it’s reasonable reported, and I don’t see what the fuss is about. I’m no fan of the Times, and I think the story itself is silly because it presumes to assume that economists know what the hell they’re about, when they don’t.

    By the way, the idea that kids would get a better education using vouchers is idiotic. Do you people not know that black and Hispanic communities basically view education as a jobs program? Look what happened in Milwaukee. Rampant fraud.

    What everyone wants from schools is not choice, but their kids away from Those Kids. The only place you see support for charters are cities where motivated black and Hispanic parents want to get their kids away from the unmotivated ones, and socioeconomically diverse suburbs where white parents without enough money for private schools want to get away from the brown kids, or at least just exposed to the ones with motivated parents. Middle class parents in these districts don’t want vouchers, because they know full well that their kids aren’t rich enough to be accepted by private schools.

    • Matt M says:

      “Economists are pro-free trade and pro-choice”

      Citation needed. There might have been a time when this could be taken as a simple truism, but I think those days are long past.

      • codingmonkey says:

        What… I think you are misreading some of the recent trade headlines. All but fringe economists still agree trade is overall good. Some of the negative impact of trade was underestimated but the net effect remains positive.

        • Matt M says:

          Is Paul Krugman fringe? Do you think he supports an “unfettered free market” in education? Or even a national voucher program? Or even a marginal shift towards more charter schools?

        • codingmonkey says:

          Sorry I thought we were talking about free trade. Krugman is in favor of free trade.

          • Matt M says:

            The original assertion was that economists can be assumed to be free trade AND pro choice, and such assumption means that them opposing increased privatization is surprising and noteworthy.

            So what – we’re supposed to be shocked and surprised that the world’s most prominent economist does, in fact, oppose increased privatization?

            Are YOU shocked? Because I’m not.

          • codingmonkey says:

            I agree there are some segments of the economy that Krugman believes in more government intervention. But it is a stretch to say he is not pro-choice. I am sure he would say he is pro-choice but it is possible you would disagree with him. For example he likes Obamacare which certainly increases choice for the beneficiaries. Is Obamacare anti-choice?

          • So what – we’re supposed to be shocked and surprised that the world’s most prominent economist …

            Krugman is prominent as a public intellectual. Considered as an economist, in terms of his prominence within the field, he is prominent but no more so than a fair number of others.

            Checking a table of citation counts, he ranks number 24.

  28. aepxc says:

    Hmm, I am still having trouble seeing how the relevant excerpt from the article contradicts the data that it sources. When comparing the opinions about ride sharing with the opinions about vouchers, we see that in the first case 100% (weighted) of the polled economists agree or strongly agree that they are a good idea, whereas only 41% do the same for school vouchers. The large number of economists uncertain about charter schools are a relevant statistic in this comparison.

    Of course, this is exactly what the excerpt states. It is entirely unambiguously comparing support for ride sharing services to support for school vouchers, not support for school vouchers to opposition to school vouchers. The excerpted statements do not imply anything about the opposition to school vouchers (and neither does the title – if I am uncertain about something, I am not buying it) – this is an inference that you have chosen to make yourself.

    The rest of the article may well be anti-voucher, but unless it later somehow tries to tie its anti-voucher opinions back to the quoted poll, there is nothing inherently misleading in the statement of those opinions.

    • Jiro says:

      Something can be “unambiguous” and misleading at the same time. The impression that people would get from reading that headline is that most economists oppose vouchers. The fact that the headline is literally accurate because “don’t buy it” may mean no opinion as well as opposition is irrelevant–that’s how Rita Skeeter news works to mislead people.

  29. tscharf says:

    Let the army of media fact checkers solve this….or not. This will likely show an example of how fact checking is woefully exposed to selection bias. “The Russians hacked the electrical grid” from the WP is also embarrassingly wrong on the facts, not that anyone will notice. A single laptop not connected to the grid at a Vermont utility was infected with malware that can be purchased online. Launch the nukes!

    That being said, my faith in economists predictions is pretty low anyway, as we all know the real estate market could never uniformly drop and cause a financial crisis just because an enormous number of people were given money they couldn’t realistically be expected to pay back. Nothing to see there.

  30. Tibor says:

    I’m not sure if it fits here, or if I should ask in an OT. But since it is about media and their biases…

    What conservative-leaning English language (online) newspaper would you recommend to someone who is very left-wing (of the north American kind of left) but who does not want to enclose herself entirely in a left-wing bubble? I have a friend from Canada and she told me she tries to read right-wing news as well, but she pretty much only knows the Fox News and she mentioned that one title there was something like “global warming is a Chinese conspiracy” or something. I’ve never read Fox News, but from what I hear I guess they are something like the right-wing Guardian or possibly even worse. Not the best place to try to find the best arguments for the “other side”.

    And please don’t say Reason, because Reason is a libertarian magazine, not conservative. Not that it would not be good for her to read that too, but it won’t help her much to understand conservatives.

    • registrationisdumb says:

      Wall Street Journal is generally considered slightly conservative and is generally considered to be one of the most trustworthy newspapers out there.

      It won’t really burst your bubble in the same way reading Breitbart or Drudge will, but if you’re only going to read one news source, it’s probably one of the best.

      • I haven’t read the WSJ with any frequency in recent years. My conclusion long ago was that the editorial page was pro-market, the news stories more conventional.

        That was partly based on a story on adoption which mentioned problems as failures of the adoption market without mentioning that this was a market where the price was set by law at zero.

    • tscharf says:

      WSJ, although their focus is financial, not investigative. The culture opinions are right wing.

    • hlynkacg says:

      The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and USA Today, all lean right to varying degrees and would be my recommendation as far as major print papers are concerned. If your friend wants a bit more of a deep dive without going “full retard” I’d recommend The Federalist and National Review.

      Fox News is indeed the “right-wing Guardian”.

      • Aapje says:

        The Washington Post seems pretty left-leaning, judging by the (admittedly cherry picked) stories I read on their site.

      • Brad says:

        Did you mean the Washington Times?

      • Protagoras says:

        I’m not shocked that someone would describe the Post as right-leaning (I think it is just the cherry picking at work in your assessment, Aapje), but I am somewhat surprised that someone would recommend it as a source of news. It seems to be a terrible paper with an undeserved reputation based on ancient history (and even the ancient history in question is highly distorted; it never seems to have completely deserved its reputation).

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m trying to think of one but it’s hard. In Irish media, the liberalish/vaguely pinkish left paper would be The Irish Times but that is probably only going to say what she already thinks. The right-leaning major paper is The Irish Independent and I wouldn’t use that to put down on a wet floor to wipe your feet with. We have a selection of “Irish versions of British papers” but they’re not much use. There’s the Examiner but eh, it’s a bit parochial (I don’t mind parochial myself but it is pretty much “local news”, even if it has expanded its remit to a national level). Probably the Examiner is the least bad 🙂

      In the UK, ignore the tabloids – well, unless she’s looking for a dose of culture shock. The Daily Mirror is slightly less useless than The Sun, but that’s not saying much. The Daily Telegraph gets mocked by “Private Eye” as the Daily Torygraph; it’s less crazy and right-wing than the Daily Mail but again, that’s not saying much. I don’t know too much about The Times‘ position – it’s a Murdoch newspaper now, so there you go.

    • baconbacon says:

      What conservative-leaning English language (online) newspaper would you recommend to someone who is very left-wing (of the north American kind of left) but who does not want to enclose herself entirely in a left-wing bubble?

      None, newspapers aren’t a good source of information as they have to fill column width. Blogs are better in terms of exposing to the other side. Marginal Revolution is a good one for easing a left leaning person into what decent (but not particularly great) rightish analysis looks like, and they post every day (even just links) so it feels more like a newspaper in frequency.

    • Tekhno says:

      @Deiseach
      I’m pretty sure that the Daily Mirror is left wing but low class and stupid, as if it were the left wing counterpart of the right wing Daily Mail.

      • Deiseach says:

        The Mirror used to be left-wing (or rather, Labour supporting) in its origins; competing with the Sun (which strongly supported Thatcher when Murdoch felt that was the best, then Tony Blair deliberately set out to court his support and the Sun switched angles accordingly), plus Labour re-inventing itself as New Labour (or Tories Light) meant that has become diluted.

        (Murdoch of course is an interesting personality; I don’t know if he has any particular convictions other than making money and being a huge fish in the media empire pond. He’s switched with ease from Australian to British to American citizenship as it benefited him most; his marriage to Wendy Deng was rumoured to be as much about making inroads into the Chinese market thanks to her family connections as it was about connubial romance; and he’s switched from supporting the Conservatives to Labour to Conservatives as his business interests in Britain would prosper).

        You read them both primarily for the sports pages, for the topless Page Three girls (although that gimmick is now retired) and for trashy gossip that is big on front-page “exclusives” and has a veneer of “this is a newspaper, not a woman’s magazine like OK! or Hello!”

        I also forgot The Daily Star which is even more downmarket (ironically, it’s a stablemate of the Daily Express which would have had pretensions to being a ‘quality’ paper) – apparently under its proprietor, the Express has gone full UKIP. I don’t know if I could recommend it to the Canadian reader as it is trash, though. It’s fallen away from what it was in its beginning, though even then it was used as the organ of his own agenda by Lord Beaverbrook.

    • cassander says:

      Instapundit isn’t a newspaper, but it’s a good way of getting into the right wing news-o-sphere.

  31. anonymousskimmer says:

    To me the take home message from those graphs are that the extreme outliers (Strongly Dis/Agree) are far more confident in their answers than those who merely Dis/Agree, who are more confident in their assertions than those who are uncertain.

    Which tells me that the majority of the answers are likely gut or politically based, and not knowledge based.

    Which tells me that economists shouldn’t be giving a single Likert scale answer on this topic.

  32. baconbacon says:

    It’s not what you think, its much much worse.

    I. Follow the link and there is a list of votes with confidence and comments. Here are some examples of votes with comments and confidence level (out of 10)

    1. Uncertain- Vouchers likely to improve things in short run given the awful state of US public schools. But we know little about their long run effects. 5

    2. Uncertain- The evidence is mixed on the benefits of school choice. 5

    3. Disagree- Maddeningly sweeping! Some students would benefit and the average effect might indeed be positive. But some students would surely be harmed. 6

    4. Uncertain- Those using vouchers would likely be better off, but others might be worse – need to consider system-level and distributional effects. 6

    5. Disagree- More motivated and able students would take advantage of the vouchers, but the students left behind would likely be worse off. 8

    6. Uncertain- The existing alternatives to public schools are not all of uniformly higher quality; adverse selection is a big deal too. 7

    7. Strongly disagree- And what about the kids that don’t take up the vouchers? 8.

    8. Agree- Competition is likely beneficial on average. Less clear that all students would benefit leading to tough ?s about social welfare functions. 7

    Most comments are on the theme of “good for some, negative for others”. Some people choose this as an excuse for disagree to strongly disagree, some for uncertain and some for agree (there might be a strongly agree further down, I didn’t scroll through the lot of them).

    The question is worded in a way that largely uniform responses get mixed results, its a trap.

    II. It is far worse than that. Channeling TLP, the entire phrasing of the questions sets up a false equivalence. Uber is very close to the free market solution to a problem. Vouchers are an attempt to capture some of the benefits of markets in a state directed system. There is not single answer about what a free market education system would look like because that question is never asked. The title “free market for education? …” is a flat out lie, but everyone has already moved passed that to argue about the phrasing of the second statement, and the framing is complete. Now the argument is only “should we have a tax driven school system with public schools and some private schools, or a tax driven system with public schools and vouchers to go private schools”.

    III. These things are always sold as dramatic changes to the system. Charter schools, wow! The are allowed to hire people without a masters in education! OK, but the pool of people who want to become teachers have been told for the past 20 years that they need a masters, and so virtually everyone has them except for the totally inexperienced just coming out of college. Their results are still getting measured by the yardsticks of standardized testing that were developed by people already convinced that the current system is the right way to go (with minor tweaks).

    Final thought

    When asked what type of schools parents would choose for their children, 41% said private schools, 36% said public schools, 12% said charter schools, and 9% said home school. Yet the real enrollment for these schools is as follows: 84% public, 9% private, 4% charter, and 3% home schooling.

    This type of result is fairly common. Why are we asking economists if we should use vouchers when the individual experts on their own children are broadly in support of more options? Because the answer is uncomfortable and has almost no support “someone else’s kid might do worse under this system, your kid needs to be held back for their good”. Even the readers of the NYTs wouldn’t buy that en masse.

  33. My guess is something like this is a worry as to why NYT authors might not be totally honest, besides mere incompetence.

    https://ourfuture.org/20160428/how-school-vouchers-promote-religious-schools-and-hurt-education

    “First, there is the issue of church and state separation. All research shows that most of the money voucher programs redirect from public schools to private institutions ends up going to religious schools. In D.C., 80 percent of voucher users attend religion-based private schools. North Carolina’s relatively new voucher program sends 93 percent of its money to “faith-based schools.”

    If you can expect around 9 out of 10 people to use school voucher programs to send their kid to a religious school(As far as I am aware of, students already have some choice for each school in a typical school district already…and the lazy parents just send their kids to the closest ones) then I can’t support it.

    “In 2006, the United States Department of Education released a report concluding that average test scores for reading and mathematics, when adjusted for student and school characteristics, tend to be very similar among public schools and private schools. Private schools performed significantly better than public schools only if results were not adjusted for factors such as race, gender, and free or reduced price lunch program eligibility”

    What the hell will the schools actually *do* differently for various subjects? By far, the best way to learn multiple subjects is a cram-style school, that utilities various machine-assisted methods (probabilistic G-score methods for mathematical achievement, intelligent flash-card usage for subjects like geology). In todays day and age, our best psychometricians and statisticians can make an absolutely smashing computer program that updates itself with bayesian statistics on each childs learning rates and best possible paths, along with competing memorization programs.

    I bet a cult could use optimal methods for a student-body, get a bunch of great wow reviews for those topics, have the students learn the raw facts for typical subjects…while having their minds utterly biased in certain directions by editing the curriculum one way and not including lots of books in the schools private library.

    • baconbacon says:

      What the hell will the schools actually *do* differently for various subjects? By far, the best way to learn multiple subjects is a cram-style school, that utilities various machine-assisted methods (probabilistic G-score methods for mathematical achievement, intelligent flash-card usage for subjects like geology).

      School is about far more than test results, especially for the parents of kids.

    • baconbacon says:

      If you can expect around 9 out of 10 people to use school voucher programs to send their kid to a religious school(As far as I am aware of, students already have some choice for each school in a typical school district already…and the lazy parents just send their kids to the closest ones) then I can’t support it.

      Most existing private schools are religious. If public school is secular by law then you are likely to have the private sector run religious schools in parallel, because it is an obviously underserved market. Many of the students (certainly in the area where I grew up) don’t even take religion classes, they are simply offered, and that is enough to classify as a religious school. A broad voucher program, in the long run, would decrease religious school attendance because those that prefer it strongly already send their kids that at high rates, and other send their kids there for the ancillary benefits.

      “In 2006, the United States Department of Education released a report concluding that average test scores for reading and mathematics, when adjusted for student and school characteristics, tend to be very similar among public schools and private schools. Private schools performed significantly better than public schools only if results were not adjusted for factors such as race, gender, and free or reduced price lunch program eligibility”

      I remember arguing at this report when it came out. IIRC the result was only true specifically for reading and math scores which are targeted by public schools. Private schools (as measured by satisfaction reported by either the parents or students) provided far better results in art/music/athletics, as well as better rates of college acceptance (perhaps controlled for quality of college). Moreover I believe the estimates in either that report or a similar one was that private schools cost roughly half of what public schools did per student year.

      • Matt M says:

        “Many of the students (certainly in the area where I grew up) don’t even take religion classes, they are simply offered, and that is enough to classify as a religious school. A broad voucher program, in the long run, would decrease religious school attendance because those that prefer it strongly already send their kids that at high rates, and other send their kids there for the ancillary benefits.”

        This is really worth emphasizing. I think a lot of people hear “religious school” and assume it’s like, the modern day equivalent of some sort of monastery where the entire courseload is dedicated towards training children how to be a monk or nun or what have you – but not only are most “religious schools” not like that, many parents send their children to religious schools simply for the superior academics they offer in many locations. They would gladly send their children to a secular private school if one existed that was as high quality as the religious school was.

  34. Garrett says:

    Does this fit the Toxoplasma mold? That is, the title itself isn’t false. It is arguably true (in the sense that if I was in college and submitted the title and it was marked wrong I could argue sufficiently well to get whatever points were deducted back). It is, however, not the best interpretation of the data. Scott clearly calls out how it could be represented better.

    But given that there’s a division here between actual and best, and actual isn’t clearly false, could this be a Toxoplasma setup? Where the title is designed to get people on different sides of the issue riled up and arguing, complete with more clicks?

    • onyomi says:

      I think it’s simpler than that. If they had a credible study which more unambiguously implied the conclusion they wanted, I see no reason for them not to use it. The problem here, I think, is cognitive dissonance: American Blue tribe prides itself on being the “fact-based” tribe which listens to experts and academics and studies. But they also happen to have historically allied themselves with teacher’s unions and the public sector in general.

      In order to qualify as “Toxoplasma,” I think you’d have to observe Blue tribe consistently focusing on areas where studies and experts don’t seem to support their preferences, or at least only ambiguously so. In such a case, willingness to accept the “Blue tribe studies” or the “Blue tribe interpretation of studies” would function as a kind of shibboleth.

      But I don’t think that’s what you see. My general impression is that, when Blue tribe argues about something where experts overwhelmingly support them, like AGW, they constantly bring up expert opinion. When they argue about something where experts don’t support them, or only ambiguously support them, like public sector unions, minimum wage, or gun control, they tend to cite experts and studies more reluctantly, often resorting instead to more emotional or ethical arguments.

  35. thetitaniumdragon says:

    Obvious point: why do we care what economists believe?

    The real question is what the evidence points us towards, not what people believe. We should be looking at actual arguments and data and evidence, not people shouting about shit.

    I mean, let’s face it – do most of these economists have a [i]well-informed[/i] opinion on this? I severely doubt it. Most of them probably spend their time studying other things.

    The people who are almost certainly most correct are the people in the [i]uncertain[/i] category, because they’re most likely to be the best calibrated and be able to explain why they are uncertain. They’re probably more likely to be able to explain the potential pros and cons than anyone else.

    I’m pretty profoundly skeptical of school vouchers because I don’t think that education operates much like an open market, I don’t see good evidence of private schools actually being better, I don’t think parents are mostly capable of making informed decisions about which schools are good or bad, I think a lot of parents don’t really have the informed best interests of their children in mind, and I think the tribally unifying effects of public education are important.

    All of those are big problems and only one of them is properly “economics”.

  36. thetitaniumdragon says:

    I think that the headline is the best way to present the information to laypeople, TBH.

    Saying “about twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t” is deeply misleading – a lot of people would assume a 66/33 split. Instead, we see a 36/37/19 split.

    The most accurate way of representing the graph would be “economists uncertain that school vouchers would improve education.” Which is quite correct – the plurality of economists are uncertain whether or not school vouchers would improve education, and the rest are divided.

    I don’t think that the headline is actually wrong at all – it is absolutely correct. Only a third of economists “buy it” – two-thirds don’t. Most people would get the correct impression from the headline, but they wouldn’t really understand the subtleties.

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