Post Parade

November 10, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The front page of the New York Post is frequently a moral struggle.  Well, not much of a struggle.  The newspaper stands some obvious sinner in the pillory for Post readers to pelt with rotten vegetables.  The parade includes the criminal thug, the celebrity or sports star, the politician (foreign leaders make especially good targets provided they’re someone Post readers might have heard of), and others.

But some days, the Post goes for the puerile pun, as though the headline-writing room had been staffed with boys from a middle-school playground. 

And when the stars are properly aligned, you get both.

Then there’s the Daily News version.  Remember the moral outrage at for using “Gen. Betray Us” epithet? From Wikipedia:
Fellow Max Boot* accused of “desperate attempts to besmirch one of the most admired soldiers in the entire American armed forces” and argued that the ad will “backfire.”
That was five years ago, and now the Daily News (hardly a left-wing rag) uses the same shameful name pun on page one.  Some backfire.

(Previous Post posts are here, here, and here.)

* If you were trying to think up names for a right wing hawk, could you come up with anything better than “Max Boot”?

“I Cannot Tell a Lie”

November 9, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The father of our country may have been scrupulously truthful, but at least one of his namesakes has been fudging the data.

From Inside Higher Ed
George Washington University on Thursday became the third private university this year to admit that it has been reporting incorrect information about its new students -- both on the university's website and in information provided to U.S. News & World Report for rankings.

In the case of GW, the university -- for at least a decade -- has been submitting incorrect data on the class rank of new students. For the most recent class of new students, George Washington reported that 78 percent of new students were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The actual proportion of such students is 58 percent.
The irony goes beyond the name.  Universities all have rules about plagiarism and cheating on exams, and in the Student Handbook, accompanying the penalties and procedures section, schools sometimes add a righteous explanation: going out in the world disguised with a phony GPA is not only morally wrong, it is ultimately self-defeating. 

As if.

Cheating is rational, and the conditions that make it rational are the same ones that make it rational for George Washington to tell a lie. To judge the quality of a student or school in some meaningful way would be just too cumbersome.  You would have to get to know the person or school in some deeper way.  But when you have many students to grade and many schools to rate, it’s just so much more convenient to reduce all that information to a couple of numbers.  And it’s much easier to manipulate the numbers than it is to change what those numbers supposedly represent.

Predictions and Results

November 7, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Well, Howard, my predictin’ days is over,” said Muhammed Ali, even though the champ had been fairly accurate at predicting how many rounds an opponent would last. 

My post yesterday quoted Peggy Noonan predicting a Romney win.  On Fox last night, when one of the anchors asked Noonan if she were “surprised” by the results, she dodged the question and said only that she was disappointed.  Are her predicting days over?  Unlikely.

I contrasted Noonan’s “all the vibrations are right” methodology with Nate Silver’s thorough and complicated Bayesian model.  Conservatives accused Silver of liberal bias (and effeminacy), and they offered their own unbiased, clear-eyed  predictions. 

How did the prognosticators do?  Well, if somebody had bet on the Bayes, they would have cleaned up.  Here’s a scorecard.  I filled in some of the blanks in the grid that Neil Sihnababu posted at VoteSeeing .  Right now, the electoral vote stands at 303-206, with Florida not yet called, though most experts have put it in the Obama column.  Assuming that Florida is blue, Silver’s electoral prediction is perfect.  As for the battleground states, they all went for Obama (again, assuming Florida).  So did Nevada, adding one extra wrong prediction to Steve Forbes’s clear-eyed predictions.

(Click on the table for a larger view.)

You’d think that Karl Rove, George Will, and the others who did about as well as P’lod would follow Ali’s example.  Or at least, they would adjust their models, if they had any.  Or they would stop scoffing at science when it doesn’t tell them what they want to hear.  But don’t bet on it.

UPDATE:  Gabriel Rossman dresses up in his St. Paul costume (left over from Halloween, presumably) to deliver the same message. [Note for non-stats people who click on the link to Gabriel’s blog:  CLT = Central Limit Theorem.]

One More Prediction

November 6, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I foolishly looked only at representatives from the New York Times (Nate Silver) and The Wall Street Journal (Peggy Noonan).  I overlooked a third important publication, The Weekly World News.*

The full story is here

But seriously folks, Neil Sihnababu at VoteSeeing, besides providing the link to unerring P’lod, has a nice table for scoring the predictionistas on the swing states as well as on the overall vote.

*  For an earlier post on the WWW and similar tabloids, go here.