|Man Without Qualities|
Sunday, August 15, 2004
The New York Times today publishes a rather panicky interview by Deborah ("This Can't Be True! Nobody I Know Is Voting For Bush!") Solomon of Yale Professor Ray C. Fair - creator of the "Fair Model" for predicting presidential races - a model that Professor Fair updated as of July 31st to show a coming Bush landslide of 57.48 percent of the two-party vote that has Ms. Solomon so worried. Unlike Ms. Solomon's questions, Professor Fair's answers are themselves models of professional restraint:
Ms. Solomon: The polls are suggesting a much closer race.
The interview casts some interesting light on why the prevailing Conventional Wisdom is leaning fairly strongly towards Kerry-Edwards with little in the way of conventional support. As Kausfiles delicately and diplomatically and, I believe, correctly, puts it:
I just think Halperin's "Gang" is still influenced--if only subconsciously--by sympathy for the Democrats and (more important) for those Democratic operatives who are their sources. Correct for that and it's probably not Kerry's contest to lose after all.
Ms. Solomon is herself a more rampant case than those who merely favor Kerry-Edwards "subconsciously." Here she interviews a scientist at a major research university - and terms herself surprised that he hasn't distorted the results of his scientific research to favor his pre-existing political view. One easily imagines her internal dialogue: "Gee," she seems to be saying to herself, "I think nothing of distorting the results of my journalistic investigations to favor my pre-existing political view. What's the matter with this guy? I'll bet he's a closet Republican!" And what to make of Ms. Solomon's stunned quiet at the end of the interview after the Professor observes that what he writes won't influence the election much because lots of people are writing. Can there be a more direct challenge to the write-it-and-they-will-come approach of so many mainstream liberal journalists? More internal Solomon dialogue: "I always assume I'm going to influence the outcome of what I write about substantially - that's why I distort what I write!"
Of course, Ms. Solomon shouldn't worry so much about what she does with her own distortions. Her profession has a lot more in common on this point with the work of trial lawyers than with that of scientists. Who cares much if the analysis proves to be wrong after the jury has made it's award and appeals have expired - or her newsprint has yellowed? That's yesterday's news! Judging from her questioning, her likely first choice for the Democratic nominee was John Edwards - as was the case with so many of her colleagues.
She deplores what she calls Professor Fair's unusually reductive equation - but she thinks nothing of attempting to reduce him to a political label "Republican" or "Kerry supporter." She's surprised when her labeling approach doesn't yield a good prediction as to what the Professor is up to. Then there is her "sadness" at hearing that a professor of economics has been teaching his students that economics has a lot of influence on how people actually operate. So much better to learn to think in complex and meaningful ways that give inaccurate predictions.
Even after Professor Fair does his best to disabuse her of her prejudices, it never seems to occur to Ms. Solomon that the only reason anyone pays special attention to Professor Fair is that very reputation for predictive accuracy. It also never seems to occur to Ms. Solomon that the day after the election Professor Fair will still have that reputation to maintain - and whether he predicted the actual outcome of the election will matter to his reputation, but whether "his" guy Kerry won won't. Perhaps Ms. Solomon bases her view of how Ivy League economists operate on Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman - to whom a reputation for predictive inaccuracy now clings and who long ago traded in whatever economic credibility he may have had for the cheap, fleeting pleasures of a hack journalist: "Compare me… compare me, uh, with anyone else, and I think you'll see that my forecasting record is not great."
People like Mark Halperin and Charlie Cook really are non-hacks who do know more than the rest of us. Which is a good thing, because they and their like provide the input that makes the Conventional Wisdom worth reading - even if they are not always right. If every member of Halperin's Gang of 500 were equivalent to Ms. Solomon, and their input to the Conventional Wisdom equivalent to her contribution to this column, the Conventional Wisdom would be nothing more than a demonstration of the arithmetic fact that zero multiplied by five hundred is still zero.
MORE: From Betsy's Page. I'll be keeping an eye out for Stephen Green's Techcentral item, if Nick let's it through.
STILL MORE: From Don Luskin.
Comments: Post a Comment