Wednesday, 10 September 2003

Information gatekeeping

Virginia Postrel points out the absurdity of the FCC’s “equal time” regulations, which apparently extend to forbidding satire of the California governor’s race by Craig Kilborn’s Late Late Show on CBS. No excerpts—just go Read The Whole Thing.

She also reminds us what the War on Terror is actually about:

The fundamental conflict is over whether the systems of limited, non-theocratic, individual-rights-bsed governments that developed over centuries in the West are good or bad.

Just in case Noam Chomsky or Ramsey Clark (or, for that matter, Howard Dean) had confused the issue for you…

Touring SLAC

Christopher Genovese writes about his tour of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center today; it’s definitely worth a read—and not just because the people who pay my salary have experiments running out there.

Lott, liberty, and the pursuit of econometrics

Tim Lambert does a pretty good job demolishing John Lott’s latest evasions; I think the key quote (buried in Lambert’s effort to prove that Lott played games with a table) is here:

Plassmann was kind enough to reply. He conceded that no significant results remain after correcting the coding errors and did not know why Lott had removed the clustering correction [from his Stata .do file]. I also posted my question on the firearmsregprof list (also CC’d to Lott because I am very courteous). No-one there knew of a reason either.

However—accepting that Ayers and Donahue do it right—there’s still the issue of null results. More guns may not mean less crime, but the results clearly show that more guns don’t mean more crime either, and the signs indicate that concluding “more” has less support than concluding “less,” although you’d have to be an idiot to come to either conclusion based on the Ayers and Donahue corrections to Lott’s results (that’s why we call them “not statistically significant”). Then again, “More Guns, No Effect On Crime—Either Way” isn’t a very sexy book title.

More fundamentally, the “null results” return the issue of gun rights back to the realm of philosophy, the area where all rights ought to be debated in the first place. My view is that public policy is, and should be, the subject of empirical debate, while (in general) fundamental rights and liberties should not. An example: even if we proved empirically that 99.9% of coerced confessions were made by people who actually committed crimes, that would not be a valid justification for law enforcement to violate the 4th and 8th amendments to the Constitution.

CalPundit has more. I’ve also clarified that the Ayers and Donahue corrections to Lott’s results are not their results (which I haven’t looked at in any great detail, although I did download their data and stare blankly at the Stata files for a few minutes a few months back when it came out; I do remember them logging everything, which at least proves they learned their stats from economists).

Link via InstaPundit.

In brief

Things that doesn’t merit posts of their own:

  1. Despite my previous complaints about ESPN’s hype machine, I’m finding that Playmakers is actually a pretty good show, despite its obvious handicaps: a completely unsympathetic lead character, a few less-than-stellar performances, and production that at times screams “low budget.” On the plus side, the writing is good, the main storylines are plausible, and there are interesting characters. It ain’t Any Given Sunday or North Dallas Forty by any stretch of the imagination, but as a weekly diversion it isn’t bad.
  2. Yes, the SEC predictions sucked. And, yes, I’ll have more tomorrow, in time for this weekend. A big shout-out to Tommy West and the gang at my undergraduate alma mater for playing their guts out against the Rebels.
  3. In retrospect, I was a bit harsh in my latest Berkeley post. When I get a chance in the coming days, I plan to revisit it.
  4. When thinking of Israel and the Palestinians, one thing that always springs to mind is that old Robert Frost poem: good fences make good neighbors (hardly an original thought, though). My advice, cruel as it may seem, is to put up the security fence, let the Palestinians fight among themselves until they run out of things to kill each other with, and then deal with whoever emerges at the end. The benefit here is that the Israelis don’t have to take the blame for killing Arafat, since he wouldn’t last five minutes in a Palestinian civil war.

Next in this space: I have something to say about Colonel Reb. And it won’t be pretty.

One way to get people to vote

Elections for student body governments are, historically, very low-turnout affairs, for reasons that anyone who’s read the political science literature would predict: it is a low information environment, there are no party labels, and—to top it off—virtually nothing is at stake. With these conditions, it’s a miracle anyone votes in them at all. So the Ole Miss ASB decided to pump up the turnout a bit by adding a non-binding referendum on the future of the school’s mascot, Colonel Reb, to the ballot. And, lo and behold, there was a bump in turnout:

Almost 94 percent of the students who voted Tuesday’s non-binding special opinion poll held by the ASB want to keep Colonel Reb as the school’s athletic mascot.

Of the 1,687 student[s] who participated in the poll only 103 of them favored discarding the mascot, or one in 17 students.

The moral of the story: never underestimate the power of a mascot to get people to vote. But at least two people are taking this election seriously:

Keith Sisson, publisher of The New Standard, and his attorney spent much of Tuesday evening videotaping every move made by the ballot box from the Colonel Reb polling. Sisson also was allowed to place a signed evidence seal over the ballot box to verify to him that the box had not been tampered with.

Mr. Sisson apparently has confused Oxford with Chicago. It’s a common mistake. No word yet on whether the ACLU will be joining a suit on ballot security in this important, nay, crucial election.

Patrick Carver, posting at Southern Conservatives, has a somewhat different take on the poll.