|Daniel Klein Flunks Statistics 101
||[Jun. 8th, 2010|01:33 pm]
From time to time I read the editorial section of the Wall Street Journal - the insane section of an otherwise great newspaper. I think it's healthy to expose oneself to a wide variety of opinions, no matter how odious, and I usually shrug off their editorials with a bit of humor. After all, these people are paid shills of the financial industry, so what can you expect? But sometimes the editorials are so mendacious, so deliberately evil, that I grow upset. Today Professor Daniel Klein made me so upset I mailed a letter. I don't expect the Wall Street Journal to print it, so I am also sharing it here.|
Daniel Klein's "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" deliberately misuses statistics to draw an unsupportable conclusion. Having carefully designed leading questions for a poll the author himself admits does not "challenge the political sensibilities of conservatives," he extrapolates the meaningless results to conclude the left "flunks Econ 101." There are two serious flaws with his methodology. First, he only asks questions that challenge the sensibilities of one political persuasion. He failed to include any questions that challenge beliefs of the right, such as: "Cutting government spending in a recession will grow the economy." Second, he assumes there are right and wrong answers to simple questions about complex subjects. For instance his assumption that restrictions on housing development makes housing less affordable ignores the quality of life costs associated with unchecked development. Development restrictions may raise the nominal cost of housing, but may also increase the quality of existing housing. Is one unit of housing in suburban Houston worth one unit of housing in Portland Oregon? The answer to that question says more about a person's values than their economic enlightenment.