Monday, November 01, 2010

NPR spreads a falsehood

Jim Here:

On Sunday's "On The Media", NPR's Brooke Gladstone interviewed Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics. Dubner recounts a story from the book:

[Levitt] began to notice a pattern, which was that there were quite a few instances in which the two same candidates ran against each other repeatedly.

And what Levitt found was that if you looked at the Congressional races where the same two candidates ran each other repeatedly, well, the appeal of the candidate presumably didn't change a whole lot – you'd have to control for incumbency and things like that – but what often did change was the amount of money that was spent.

And what that allowed him to do was to try to isolate the causal effect of the money itself. How important is it to spend a lot more money? And the result was ... you can double the amount you spend and raise your share of the vote by about one percent.

Similarly, if you’re winning an election and you cut your spending in half, you'll lose only about one percent of the vote.

So, the original study showed that the amount of money spent in a second (or subsequent) match-up between two candidates did not substantially change the outcome from that which occurred in the first election. In other words, campaign spending has limited effectiveness in rematches between two candidates. The study says nothing about the role of campaign spending in the original matchup -- it can't, for those are the baseline used to measure the effect of spending on the rematches.

This result seems plausible -- there exists what we know as "brand loyalty", and, having once selected one candidate from a pair, it is reasonable to expect voters to have some brand loyalty that keeps them voting for the same person election after election given the same match up. So, to the degree the composition of the voting public is static, we would expect campaign spending to have limited ability to sway voters from the choices they had already made between two candidates.

However, in the first election between the pair, a significant number of voters will not have made up their minds, and thus be more open to influence from many sources--including campaign ads. So, there is reason to believe that campaign spending can be important in the initial campaign between a particular pair of candidates (e.g.: Angle v. Reid; McMahon v. Blumenthal; O'Donnell v. Coons, etc.), and Levitt's study, of course, says nothing on the matter.

And so, Dubner sliped one past Ms Gladstone when he then turned around and made the far broader -- and unjustified -- claim that: [I]f you look over the long stretch, you just don't find a causal relationship between spending and electoral outcome. Dubner knows nothing of the sort. Most elections are not rematches, and Levitt's study gives no insight into the role of campaign spending on initial matches.

Am I asking too much to expect the reporters to catch such errors? Your thoughts are appreciated!


Jim Bales



Blogger rewinn said...

Is it too much to expect reporters to ask penetrating questions ... when their job depends on access to the punditocracy?

She had to make a quick call: ask whether the analysis was b.s. and never, ever have this author, or anyone from his publisher, on the show ever again ... or let it go.

The entire mass media market is corrupted by considerations such as these, in my observation. Why else would ABC give the time of day to Brietbart, or defense contractors buy ad space on any network ('s not like anyone watching ABC is going to buy a submarine...)? You control the news by defining a carefully defined space of permitted talk privileging those who stay in the box, and punishing those who ... like Bill Maher ... stray into relevancy.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Nescio said...

My thoughts on what journalists (ought to) do today can be found here:

In short, they lack knoiwledge and are infected with the fair-and-balanced-virus:

8:34 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...


Many thanks for your comment -- you identify the fundamental tension journalists face.

I find interesting the contrast between US journalists and the BBC's, where they do push back somewhat against their guests. Any thoughts on why this cultural difference exists and perpetuates?


6:58 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...


You raise interesting points. For some time now, people have been pushing back against journalists always having two sides to a question without asking if either is factually correct. This Krugman clasic is from 2005!

So, any thoughts on what it would take to change the culture? (I type those words in trepidation, having heard Ed Schein speak about how hard it is to change culture!


7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anger about Messerlee. Understandable.
They need to understand this man was pushed into the offense. Cops have been getting away with killings like this for a long time. Blacks in the South know this all too well. Each time they were all confident the Blue Shield would protect them, and it did. The difference is in many IF NOT MOST of these cases they were rogue cops who the Gods tempted. They did it intentionally thinking they were "earning", knowing they would get away with it. They were the ones whom the Gods disliked, while the Messerlees of the world who get caught are being punished, feedback reserved for those the Gods have interest in keeping.
There are those in the ghetto whom are singled out, targets of the community whom everybody hates. The rogue cops in the South who are guilty of these kind of killings have been reincarnated into roles like this. It's just one of the clues the Gods offer to the community. Lucky for those preditors the ghetto has been an ignorant community, but I think that might be changing.

Of course there could be anoher possibility:::::Due to the history and resulting legacy of hatred for the Gods, since I am guarenteed a spot on the next Planet Earth I will be the original "bad seed":::The Lucifer-figure of the next reality. Unlike Christian dogma, he may just represent the solitary target of the God's ire early, a disgruntled asshole who pissed the Gods off, representing the only target of the God's ire early, the proverbial "apple" of the next reality, beginning the process which leads planets to where we are today. A crucial figure in any planet's history, he represents the "beginning of the end".

People, especially liberals give W a very hard time.
Don't forget what I say:::Everything today is both good and evil. The Gods have positioed it as such as we have become increasingly disfavored, confusing the enviornment.
Republicans and conservatives as well, only they fall more on the good side while their adversaries fall more on the evil side, quite contrary to the God's positioning.
Yes, W's evil is illustrated in the United State's efforts in Iraq, and the "Red State"r's who believe we were "earning" are among the worst of them.
If conservatives fall on the side of good, Fox News falls on the side of evil. They pander to the type of trash my brother is, the kind of trash who thinks their war mongering efforts "earn" for them and all others who think like them.
Anyways, it is positioned that W trashed the economy before he left office. Selfish it didn't happen while he was in office, granted, but economic turmoil is a motivator. It's not cancer, mind you, but many have begun praying hard because of their experinces in this event, and it says something about those affected as opposed to those sheltered from affect.
One day just as they will allow vaccines to diseases, especially AIDS, encouraging deviacy the likes which hasn't been seen since the 70s, they will allow cures for cancer, MS, COPD, alcoholism, etc.
Women's diseases will be last. Just as research into women's diseases receive the least amount of funding so is it justified their cures come last, and both for the same reason:::They have the most favor, and the Gods use their diseases as a motivator to pray and find the path. As such they get God's benefit as long as they are willing to offer it.

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NPR was caught politing on taxpayers dime. I guess they will be paying for this grave error. Why they fired Juan just before the election is unbelievable.

4:57 PM  
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1:36 AM  

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