Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Liptak Effect

Rick Hasen notes that Linda Greenhouse’s replacement as the New York Times’ Supreme Court reporter will be Adam Liptak. Somehow referring to Supreme Court justices as going Times-native as suffering from “The Liptak Effect” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Times op-ed irrelevance watch

Kevin Drum hasn’t linked the New York Times op-ed page for six weeks, and nobody seems to have noticed—or, for that matter, to have cared. Will someone remind me again who was supposed to be ponying up $50 a year for access to crap like Paul Krugman’s foreign policy nonsense and political commentary from losers.

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

He said, she said journalism

Not having analyzed the data (a big caveat for a social scientist, mind you) I’ll agree with the critics who aren’t buying the evidence from a Heritage report that suggests that “abstinance pledge” programs work. Not that the story makes that much sense, since it’s clear the author doesn’t actually know anything about social scientific research and just relies on an expert and the authors of the original study to rebut the paper.

But Matthew Yglesias’ critique really goes off the rails. First he complains, “the study was not peer-reviewed, is unpublishable in real academic journals, uses an unreliable data source, and only supports the conclusion when you use a non-standard test for statistical significance.”

The first two critiques are bizarre, since (a) it has never been submitted for peer review and (b) we don’t know whether or not it’s publishable, since submission for peer review hasn’t happened yet; the lack of publishability is an opinion expressed by someone in the article, not a factual statement. They don’t use any “non-standard test”; they use a p-value of 0.10 as their cutoff, which isn’t the traditional 0.05 and not quite as convincing as 0.05, but isn’t inherently invalid either, and confidence levels aren’t tests (examples of tests are “t” tests and “Wald” tests; p values are the results of statistical tests).

The only critique that’s even vaguely valid is that the data source is unreliable, as it relies on self-reporting by respondents of their behavior. This is a problem, to the extent you believe that people who have signed abstinence pledges are more likely to lie about their sexual activity than those who haven’t. I’ll concede that it’s possible that that’s the case. Mind you, Heritage didn’t come up with the data—HHS did—and trying to get people to accurately self-report anything is harder than it looks.

Then Yglesias turns and goes completely bizarro:

The only newsworthy information in the story is that the Bush Department of Health and Human Services has decided for some reason to start contracting out research on controversial questions to an ideological think tank that is non-partisan in name only, rather than to proper independent analysts.

There is no evidence in the story that Heritage was working under any sort of HHS contract. On the contrary, Heritage appears to have analyzed data, produced under HHS and CDC contract, which is in the public domain.* They then presented their results at a government-sponsored conference. The next step would be to fix any problems in the paper (and the article suggests there were some), and then submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal. That’s how social science is done.

Now, mind you, it might be premature for the New York Times to be calling attention to this story, but given public interest in the issue—and the Times’ possible interest in discrediting this evidence, not that I’d suspect the paper of having an ideological bias in its reporting decisions—I’m not sure I can fault them for covering preliminary results that (potentially) rebut a serious critique of administration policy.

* If the CDC had helped fund either analysis, it would be traditional for the studies to acknowledge the funding at the beginning of the paper in a note. I think it’s more likely that the Times meant to say that the CDC helped fund the HHS survey, not the Heritage study.

Monday, 16 May 2005

Interrupting the two-step flow

James Joyner links a MarketWatch piece that claims the New York Times is going to put its op-ed columnists behind a subscription wall; the Times has confirmed this in its own article. While comparisons to New Coke may be premature, I have to wonder who’s really going to pay $50 a year to read Paul Krugman, David Brooks, and MoDo.

One also has to wonder why the Times would want to abandon the mindshare that comes from getting linked from the blogosphere; has an interview that indicates that some sort of “affiliate program” is in the works, but I don’t think the opportunity for right-wingers to make fun of Paul Krugman’s continuing descent into moonbattery—or for leftists to mock John Tierney and David Brooks—is really worth the subscription fee in the first place (presumably some of which would be kicked back to referrers through the affiliate program). Indeed, the point of having an op-ed page is to influence public opinion; the idea that the Times would curtail its ability to influence local and regional elites, and thus shape public debate over the issues, runs directly counter to that goal.

There are other thoughts from Erik Kennedy of Ars Technica, Steven Taylor, and Julian Sanchez.