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Your tax dollars at work (junk social science edition)

A couple people pointed me to this article:

With this sort of work, I always wonder whether people who do this sort of thing really believe what they’re doing, or if they’re purposely complexifying things, the way that in chess you might try to make the board position more complex if you’re down a couple pieces already. This is a variant of the usual knave-or-fool question.

I’m guessing it’s a mix of the two: Rosh is coming into this with the belief that Trump is the legitimate victor (even if he didn’t receive more votes, the mail votes aren’t really legitimate, or early votes shouldn’t count, or people only voted for Biden because of the lying press, or Biden is really Harris’s puppet so the election doesn’t count, or Trump won more counties, or if the Hunter Biden scandal hadn’t been suppressed Biden would’ve lost, or etc etc), so any argument that the election is illegitimate is fair game. Once he gets to that point, he can use whatever statistical tricks he can think of to muddy the waters. If this were a serious study he would look for suspicious outcomes in other locations, not just the ones that are being pushed by the Trump campaign. The scandal is that this guy is on the government payroll. If my tax dollars are going to be spent on make-work projects, can’t they do something more interesting like hire people to dig up holes and fill them in again?

This article features the kind of bad statistical reasoning you’d expect to see in the Journal of Theoretical Biology or the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology or Psychological Science or (of course) the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; it’s disappointing to see it being used as part of an active political debate.

The article was also promoted by the president. Disgraceful. We laugh about institutions such as Cornell and the University of California being complicit in junk science, but when it’s the U.S. government . . . this is Stalinesque. I guess that from their perspective, we’re in a war, and so this is all legitimate disinformation tactics. But that’s what the Stalinists said too, basically: everything is us vs. them and so any tactics are acceptable.

The sad thing is that the author of the above document used to teach economics in college, and one of his students wrote, “I have to say that he was the best professor that I ever had.” I hope that wasn’t a statistics class he was teaching!

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