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August 24, 2004

Our Supremely Unbiased Press, Part 6,689

I don't want to oversell this the way someone oversold Reanimator to me. ("And then, and then, and then he's like totally decapitated, and he's like holding his own head, and then he holds his head by the hair up to the girl and... YOU GOTTA SEE REANIMATOR, DUDE!!! IT'S THE FUCKIN' SACK, BABY!!!)

But really-- this is good stuff. Almost From Beyond good.

So, some time ago, I posted the economic models created by a Yale economist named Ray C. Fair predicting a Bush victory.

Well, a reporterette at the New York Times decided to interview Professor Fair. You might think that she'd ask a lot of technical but interesting questions about the model's assumptions. You'd be wrong.

She decided to just argue about the models for an hour or so. Not in a technical fashion, mind you, but in a simply emotional one: She wants Kerry to win, and she's very angry that Professor Fair's models show him losing. She's further angry that his models show Kerry losing and yet the professor shared them with the public-- she fears that the models could hurt Kerry, and thus probably ought to have been suppressed.

Don't believe me? Well, here's a taste:

SOLOMON: In your book “Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things,” you claim that economic growth and inflation are the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on the election?

FAIR: Historically, issues like war haven’t swamped the economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the chances that Bush loses are very small.

SOLOMON: But the country hasn’t been this polarized since the 60’s, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.

Ummm, they do? Such questions weigh into every election, of course, but I can't think of an election in which such questions have been less relevant. Even during the height of the Vietnam War, the social questions -- race, abortion, etc. -- were raging to be nearly the equal of the war issue.

That's not the case now. This election is all about, in order 1) the War on Terrorism, 2) the economy, and 3) the War on Terrorism.

I think this reporterette would do herself some good to try reporting on the world as it actually is rather than how she wishes it to be.

But anyway, Prof. Fair answers:

FAIR: We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.

SOLOMON: It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.

FAIR: I will be teaching econometrics next year to undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is applied to all kinds of things.

SOLOMON: Yes, I know one of your studies used the econometric method to predict who is most likely to have an extramarital affair.

Yes, it is indeed sad that a professor of econometrics should lower himself to teach his students econometrics, rather than something really valuable, like Our Bodies, Our Elves: Marxist Feminist Allegory in The Elfstones of Shannara.

But our intrepid reporterette gets right to the heart of the matter:

SOLOMON: Are you a Republican?

FAIR: I can’t credibly answer that question. Using game theory in economics, you are not going to believe me when I tell you my political affiliation because I know that you know that I could be behaving strategically. If I tell you I am a Kerry supporter, how do you know that I am not lying or behaving strategically to try to put more weight on the predictions and help the Republicans?

SOLOMON: I don’t want to do game theory. I just want to know if you are a Kerry supporter.

FAIR: Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am a Kerry supporter.

SOLOMON: I believe you entirely, although I’m a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.

FAIR: I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to explain voting behavior.

SOLOMON: But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful.

Notice Solomon's agenda. She's not here to hash out if this model has been a good predictor in the past or anything like that. She's just pissed because she knows about The Bandwagon Effect, how undecideds can be swayed to vote by whoever they perceive to be the ultimate winner.

If she's really upset by that, she should have a word with the editors of the New York Times, who have featured, at last count, thirty-seven bazillion front-page big-font headlines proclaiming that Bush is losing support in the country. They never report the polls prominently in which he regains support. To look just at the New York Times' front page (not a good idea for anyone interested in keeping appraised of what's happening in the world), you'd get the idea that Bush must be at negative 456% support, since the Times polls only show him dropping three or five points every month.

But then, that's good shaping of public opinion, innit it?

Thanks to Little Green Footballs (who has more, including the link) by way of Milty and CalGal at The Perfect World.


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posted by Ace at 01:36 AM

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