Monday, February 16, 2009

The Full Schlafly*

Megan McArdle is an expert in the field of expertise. The only concept that is unknown to her is to be unknowing. Mhm.
This is why she can tackle any topic, no matter how removed from anything you'd expect her to have maybe half a clue about, like, say, how many civilians have died in Iraq since we invaded their country under false pretenses over half a decade ago. How is she qualified to assess mortality statistics from a nation she's never been to? She's Megan fucking McArdle, that's how.

I heard enough during my work on a story about the body count to know that the Hopkins team was behaving in odd ways that dramatically piqued the suspicions of their critics. They made claims about their methodology, and then retracted them. They kept very close control over their data set, distributing it to only a few people, and refusing to release even well scrubbed data to almost anyone who disagreed with them. On top of that, they put limitations on what researchers who had seen the data could say to the media.
If Megan were worth taking seriously, I'd refute those claims, or at least contextualize them. Instead, I'll just quote her next sentence.
I repeatedly asked for what seemed to me to be completely anodyne pieces of information in order to investigate claims of "curbstoning" and other polling offenses, only to be told that the researchers who had access to the dataset were not allowed to give out any specific numbers.
Maybe, Megan, they plain didn't feel a need to cooperate with you? Professional courtesy applies within a profession. Journalists who ask for specific data sets tend to be trained in the fields generating those numbers, for reasons that most of us would find obvious. Indeed,
The team's defenders said that they had to do this either for the security of the responders (even though no one was asking for the raw data with identities attached), or because the people who wanted it were too stupid or disagreeable to be trusted with the data set.
As in they possibly realized you, or someone in your food chain, would have decided to claim their data said something opposite to their conclusions and force them into a public debate with an unschooled idiot with an agenda, Megan? Oh, and because their data relied on Iraqi sources whose lives might be jeopardized by haphazard public handling of their information by a blithe moron like you, Megan?
AAPOR's position, which I think is right, is that this is not the way the scientific method works. To the extent that this is, as some have claimed, standard practice in the public health community, it does not validate the behavior; it casts serious doubt on the output of the field.
Megan didn't want to play with the Hopkins team, anyway, they stink and their ball is a weird color and everyone says she's too good for them.
But, like the good conservative she pretends not to be, Megan can't resist a chance to try to muddy the waters around any Iraqi body count, because the numbers, whichever numbers they are, just seem too high to her, based on her expertise in expertizing.
With controversy swirling, I called the Hopkins PR office, only to be told that Burnham was off in Amman for work and couldn't be reached for comment. Given that must have already known that the report was due to be released, and roughly what it was going to say--I was told about the report several days before its release, by another journalist--this seemed very strange. Stranger was the Bloomberg School of Public Health's apparent total lack of interest in explaining the study to a journalist from a major national magazine. I asked them to call me when he was available, but apparently his unavailability covered the entire month of January, and beyond.
Also strange is the fact that Megan didn't offer me a place to stay when I was in DC for the inauguration.
Perhaps this was because the National Journal, my sister publication, had just published an article that was highly critical of the study. Or maybe they just forgot. But the general tendency to refuse to engage with anyone who seemed likely to question their findings did not inspire confidence in the results.
And if they can convince you, Megan, then they can convince the swing voter, your mom, and then they will RULE THE WORLD. Your skepticism is all that's keeping us safe at night. Stay Strong.
Still no word on why the AAPOR got involved in the first place. But I don't see any reason to think that they're part of the scientifically illiterate and politically motivated conspiracy against Burnham et al. that the team's supporters have alleged.
I don't think you're part of a conspiracy, Megan, I'd never give you that much credit. I suspect the team feels more as if they're trying to avoid being gummed to death by a wild pack of evil, toothless, retarded babies with giganticism.
Update 2 Just to be clear: I have no reason to think that Burnham or any of the Hopkins team committed knowing fraud, as some have alleged. I don't know that there is anything wrong with their data. But the secrecy seems bizarre and wholly unnecessary, which makes it harder to trust their results.
And I'd like to make clear I don't actually think Megan is an evil, toothless, retarded baby with giganticism, but her unwillingness to give me a tissue sample for DNA testing and the like means the cloud of suspicion may never lift.
Later she got indignant because someone pointed and laughed at her, but this is long enough as is.

* - cf


Just in case anyone has forgotten, here's a quick tour of Megan's history with the body counts since the inception of FMM. I still wish she would reuse the macaroni and cheese argument from before our time.


Chad said...

I asked them to call me when he was available, but apparently his unavailability covered the entire month of January, and beyond.

Speaking as someone who (unlike Megan) actually worked as a journalist for several years, I had to actually laugh out loud at this, but I can't decide what's more hilariously absurd: that Megan honestly thought someone from a busy office would ever return her call, especially to answer unspecified questions, or that she is totally unaware of that special tactic journalists use called "persistent calling."

Mr. Wonderful said...

I was unaware of the Lenski/Schlafly thing. Fascinating. Phyllis's son, one assumes? The summary of how counter-productive Schlafly's efforts were tied it all up in a nice pretty ribbon.

Dhalgren said...

Best post title in a long time! And I thought it was a reference to Phyllis, too! I had no clue about the shit her son stepped in, and I follow the Rethug War on Science.

Dhalgren said...

I just read the latest thread between Megan and Tim Lambert over at her blog. My head is about to explode after Megan's fanboys engage in self congratulatory glee for 'roasting' Lambert.

I'd pay money to see a 3-hour McArdle vs. Lambert debate on this 3 year-old debate.

I continue to be puzzled why an MBA dipshit would get involved in complex statistical analysis that I have only seen a few people navigate through (one of them being my girl, who is a research physician).

Susan of Texas said...

Because she believes what she wants to believe, and in the conservative world she can always find a lot of authorities to back her up. That's all she needs.

I am telling you that professionals who do this stuff for a living and had seen the data sets specifically said that the two data sets did not agree about the total number of people who had died in Iraq. People who are professionals who had seen the papers said they did not agree about the number of people who had died in Iraq. In fact, the only conflict epidemiologist that I am aware of who believes the papers agree is . . . Les Roberts."

She does that all the time, and it always leads her into error because she refuses/is too lazy to think for herself. She's Jonah Goldberg clone, through-and-thorough.

Ken Houghton said...

Dhalgren - Why do you want Tim Lambert to waste three hours of his time, plus prep and travel.