Saturday, December 4, 2010


Friday, May 28, 2010

Is the mainstream necessarily saner?

I hate to turn this into a Conor Friedersdorf fan club, but he recently wrote another article worth thinking about.  Friedersdorf argues that because Rand Paul's positions are no more destructive or useless than mainstream policies, they shouldn't be treated as crazier.  Let's concede his claim about the relative quality of Paul's policies - I don't agree with it, but it isn't groundless and it'd take a book-length essay to really make the case against it.  Does it follow that these policies are (relatively) sane?

No.  Sanity is determined by how widely held the assumptions involved are.  Policies based on the assumption that humanity is a disease might be completely logical, but they're also insane because only psychopaths think humanity is a disease.  Farm subsidies might not make much sense from an educated perspective, but the assumptions involved - that American farmers need money to maintain their production capacity and that the global food market is less trustworthy than the US agriculture industry - are very widely held.  The assumptions justifying Paul's support for the gold standard - that demand for gold is more reliable than demand for greenbacks, and that the Fed is less trustworthy as a controller of money supply than the global gold mining industry is - are very uncommon and thus far less sane.

Now, it could be that Paul's assumptions turn out to be true.  We've all heard the (completely bogus) stories about how Newton and Einstein were considered crazy before they won acceptance.  But that's like saying tinfoil-hat wearers are sane just because, theoretically, the government really could be sending out mind control rays that only tin can defend against.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Duel of the failed right-wing fact-checkers

 The moderate conservative blogger Conor Friedersdorf wrote a blog item detailing a supposed example of "epistemic closure" on the right.  He claims his examples show right-wing pundits crowing over the ACLU failing to intervene in a case when, in fact, they had intervened; this was supposed to prove that right-wingers didn't bother checking unfiltered sources of information.  However, the ACLU's intervention is dated the 10th and their blog item about it is dated the 11th.  Most of the example conservative complaints pre-date this response, so they don't support Friedersdorf's point at all.  There's something parallel between Friedersdorf lazily failing to check the dates and just assuming they support his point, and his targets' lazily failing to check the ACLU and just assuming its actions support their point.  He is, commendably, less vitriolic and unpleasant in his error.

The example complaints that predate the ACLU's response: Stop the ACLU, Limbaugh, News Real Blog, the Pirate's Cove, the Old Jarhead, Jules Crittenden, Radio Voice Online, Uncoverage, Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop
The example complaints which are actually examples of "epistemic closure": the Bakersfield Californian, Speak Now America, the Mighty Righty forum
Unknown: the Millennial Perspective

UPDATE: Friedersdorf responded in his comments, pointing out that these sites (and radio entertainers) haven't updated or corrected their posts.  That's a good point.

Monday, May 24, 2010

ASU releases study on illegal immigration

Arizona State University recently released a paper fact-checking various claims being made about immigration.  Here's a summary.

Stuff People Get Right:
-Arizonans really do like their tough new law - 64% favor it.
 -Arizona really is being peopled by immigrants: about 60% of Arizonans under the age of 7 have immigrant parents.
-The effect of immigrants on the economy really does benefit employers and hurt the least skilled.

Stuff People Get Wrong
-A majority (57%) of Arizonans actually welcome any immigrants who are willing to work and aren't dangerous.
-Anger over immigration probably isn't racist, as it's mostly directed at the federal government and not the immigrants (85% vs. 10%).
-Arizona isn't experiencing an immigrant-driven crime wave; in fact, the US generally is experiencing a record low in crime, and states with lots of immigration in particular have seen the biggest decrease in crime
-Arizona's public services aren't clearly taking a beating from illegal aliens.  While many students are the children of illegal immigrants there's no evidence that this is overcrowding the state's schools.  Illegal aliens do account for about 1/6th the prison population, but don't account for the explosive growth in that population - tougher sentencing and laws are the cause.  Immigrants account for about 6% of hospital spending on treating the un- and under-insured.
-Illegal immigration has only a small net effect on the U.S. economy.  The paper doesn't say if this is true of Arizona's economy in specific, though.

Stuff We Just Don't Know
-We don't know exactly how much crime is being committed by illegal immigrants as immigration status is generally not recorded by police.
-We don't know how many illegal immigrants are coming and going.  For what it's worth, "experts believe" immigration peaked around 2000 and that it's slowed or stopped since then.
-We don't know the net economic effect.  States with high immigration experienced high growth, but the causality could work either way.

[h/t to The New Republic's blog about cities]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stay a while and listen

Welcome to Vox Octopi.  This blog is dedicated to contra-contrarianism and defense of the status quo, as well as occasionally lobbying for the rights of our 8 legged friends.  The author has an American center-left bias, which puts him in the neighborhood of former President Clinton or the current British Prime Minister Cameron.