Tuesday, 10 April 2007

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Statistical Analysis? Don't Want It. We Prefer "Real Facts." (x-post from the Valve) I’ve seen this article by Mary Eberstadt roll across Phi Beta Cons twice this past week, so I can only conclude they really, really want people to read it. Why? To debunk it, obviously. Who am I not to oblige? In “Do Campuses Tilt Left?” Eberstadt attacks the conclusions of the American Federation of Teachers’ recent report “The ‘Faculty Bias’ Studies: Science or Propaganda?” The AFT paper analyzes eight studies purporting to show systemic liberal bias in higher education in order to determine whether or not they’re methodologically sound. The conclusion? They fail to meet minimum research standards. In particular: The studies were evaluated using five research principles that help to establish whether the authors are overgeneralizing based on limited or flawed collection and interpretation of data. These principles help to differentiate anecdotal evidence that is hand-picked to support a particular point of view and systemic observation that leads to valid conclusions. The emphasis is mine. In my defense, I couldn’t help myself. To refute the claim that these studies hand-pick anecdotal evidence to support a particular point, Eberstadt presents “a few examples from what could be a longer list,” all from the mouths of prominent movement conservatives: “I watched with horror as the multicultural yahoos took over the humanities” (the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald). “I’d been preaching freedom of speech, but I had to leave the academy for the world of policy think tanks before I’d ever get a chance to practice it” (Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Stanley Kurtz, formerly of Berkeley, Chicago, and Harvard). “Of course the vast majority of the faculty [at Harvard] were on the left” (Hoover Institution senior fellow and former Harvard professor Peter Berkowitz). “Because I studied neither economics nor Straussian philosophy [at the University of Chicago], I never met a conservative professor, and I knew only one conservative student” (David Brooks). Earlier in the article, Eberstadt wrote that “so perverse is [the AFT] report in conception and so quixotically oblivious to the inescapable facts, that it might easily be mistaken for a sendup [and] that some Swiftian wit had pulled off a brilliancy here.” To her bewilderment, I add my own—for an article so “quixotically oblivious” must have been written by a liberal satirizing a conservative. How else to account for the fact that “Eberstadt” responds to the AFT’s criticism of studies relying on anecdotal evidence gathered without any control for bias by hand-picking four anecdotes from a forthcoming collection entitled Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys? Since most people won’t read the study itself [.pdf], I’ll share Eberstadt’s analysis of its highlights. Eberstadt balks at the study’s claim that “it is not possible with any precision to calculate a ratio of Democrats to Republicans at the sampled institutions.” Actually, Eberstadt cites it like this: “It is not possible with any precision to calculate a ratio of Democrats to Republicans at the sampled institutions.” Makes it seem like “It” is...
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The Internet Stupid Report Standing in front of a map of the Internet is a man with an indescribable comb-over and a smile white as it is wide. As the curtain rises, a women who ends every sentence with a question tells a man named Skip to "throw it Kaufman." He does. Kaufman: Thanks Skip. Today has been a particularly stupid day on the Internet. As you can see from the map (points at map) the trouble began on Pharyngula (map zooms in), where the statement "it may be a little harsh" (points at map) and a bland clarification (points a little lower) precipitated a series of increasingly unhinged responses punctuated by yipping, yapping, hilariously unfounded charges of dishonesty and (waves hand over large swath of the map) general calumny. Skip: Sounds rough, Scott. Kaufman: It was, Skip, it was ... but it wasn't the stupidest stupidity on the Internet today. For that (map dissolves into pixels) we need to look over here (map returns), where some people are convinced it's opposite day. Skip: It isn't, is it? Kaufman: No, Skip, 'fraid not. But that didn't stop some people (points at map) from insinuating in a general way, the possibility that in some important respects, when a person says "I want to talk about this more" he maybe really means "I never want to talk about this again." This stupidity is merely the remnants of that idiotic front (gesticulates wildly) that passed through here the other day, but don't let that fool you. It still packs quite a punch ... back to you, Skip. Skip: I wonder when Opposite Day is? I bet beleaguered local businessman Milton Keeps does too ... Inane chatter continues as the lights fade and the curtain slowly lowers.

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