Political Animal


DID HE OR DIDN’T HE?….JOHN LOTT AND THE MYSTERIOUS SURVEY….The revelation that John Lott has been masquerading on the Internet under the name “Mary Rosh” has given everybody considerable entertainment today, but it has a more serious side too: it is now obvious that he is the kind of person who is willing to engage in a meticulous and lengthy deception in order to defend his work. He has posted comments at both Julian Sanchez’s site and Megan McArdle’s, he has written email to me, he has reviewed his own book on Amazon, and he has posted hundreds of messages on newsgroups, many of them praising his own personal qualities. This is the obsessive behavior of a desperate person, and it means we should now judge his claims extremely skeptically.

The question is, did Lott actually conduct a survey in 1997 regarding defensive gun use, or did he fabricate the results? Recently a person came forward who claimed to have been part of Lott’s 1997 survey, and several people have taken this as evidence that Lott actually did conduct the survey in question. Tim Lambert, Lott’s most dogged critic, says:

[James] Lindgren questioned him carefully about what questions he was asked and they corresponded pretty well to what Lott said they were (with one major discrepency which I will comment on in the next paragraph). The only way this could have happened is if he had conspired with Lott, and given the blundering way Lott has defended himself, I just don’t buy it.

Given Lott’s behavior as Mary Rosh, however, this kind of collusion now seems at least plausible. Basically, we still don’t know.

So that leaves us with the data itself from Lott’s survey, and this is where my main question lies. Here’s a brief summary of the problem:

  • Lott claims his survey had 2,424 respondents.

  • James Lindgren estimates that out of this number about 25 would have reported defensive gun use.

  • Lott claims that of those 25, only 2% actually fired their gun. That’s one-half of a person.

  • Furthermore, out of the 2%, only one-fourth actually fired at a person (the other three-fourths fired warning shots). That’s one-eighth of a person.

Now, as it happens, I have an explanation of this from Lott himself (writing to me under his Mary Rosh pseudonym): the results were weighted, not raw numbers. This is perfectly reasonable, of course, but when I wrote back saying that the weighting seemed awfully large, here’s what he replied:

Whether it is possible depends upon how finely you do the weighting. If you do something as simple as national weighting, you are right, it would not be likely. But if you are willing to put in the effort to break things down into enough categories it becomes quite likely. I just looked up some different numbers from 2000 to give you a rough idea. In Montana, black males make up .14 percent of the population. In Mississippi, they make up 18.8 percent. That is a difference of 134 fold, quite a bit bigger than your 8/1 ratio. Obviously, this is an extreme difference and the difference that Lott must have come across is only about 1/17th as large. If he broke things down by age in addition to race and gender, I am sure that you could easily get difference much bigger than 134 fold. My impression is that at least on this point Lindgren is “making a mountain out of a mole hill.”

This doesn’t sound convincing to me. In order to get different figures for people who fired at a person versus those who fired warning shots, at least two people must have fired their guns. That’s 8%, which would have to be weighted down 4:1 to arrive at his 2% figure. Of those two, one of them fired at the person and the other fired a warning shot, which means that one of those people would have to be weighted up from one-half to three-fourths and the other would be weighted down from one-half to one-fourth.

I’m conversant with statistics, but I don’t know much about demographic sample weighting in a survey of this nature. So while it seems dubious to me, I just don’t know.

But there are people who read this blog who do know, and here’s my question for them: does this make any sense? Is there any reasonable combination of survey data and weighting that could be applied to a sample this size that would produce Lott’s stated results? And I don’t mean a statistically significant result, I just mean any reasonable weighting that could produce this result at all? How about it?


YEARNING FOR A GOLDEN AGE….Greg Beato has a great paragraph today on people who pine away for the past:

It’s always easy to pick the best from the past (i.e., Casablanca) and compare it with the mediocre of the present, then conclude that they just don’t make them like that anymore. But anyone who bothers to examine the past for five minutes invariably discovers that the past was exactly like the present: the lousy and the mediocre ruled, and good stuff was rare. But the good stuff survives and most of the lousy and mediocre stuff disappears, and people remember golden ages that never were. The same dynamic applies to newspaper columnists, of course: Damon Runyon and Walter Lippmann and H.L. Mencken are the names we remember, but it was the Daniel Henningers of the day who filled up most of the pages.

The same is true of politics: George W. Bush is no FDR, but neither was Calvin Coolidge. We should neither glorify nor dismiss the past, but should try to view it through the eyes of those who actually lived through it, warts and all. Only then can we actually learn anything from it.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS….I have often wondered

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS….I have often wondered about the names given to prescription drugs: Prozac, Viagra, Xanax, Motrin. Who comes up with them? Is it just the marketing department, or are there rules to be followed? And what are they supposed to mean?

Wonder no more! This article in the Economist was so interesting that I’m going to reproduce it in full here ? and damn the copyright laws. Brad DeLong does it; why can’t I?

Jan 16th 2003
From The Economist print edition

The success of new drugs depends increasingly on what they are called

A DECADE ago, Pfizer turned to Interbrand Wood, a consultancy, to find a catchy name for its new medicine to treat erectile dysfunction. The challenge, according to Rebecca Robins, head of the consultancy’s health-care division in London, was to invent a name with enough popular appeal to overcome the stigma associated with impotence, yet serious enough to appeal to doctors. The firm eventually came up with ?Viagra?. Suggesting vigour and strength, it also rhymes with Niagara, evoking images of free and forceful flow.

Eli Lilly is taking a different tack with its new anti-impotence drug, being launched later this year. Lilly’s product acts in basically the same way as Viagra, but it is longer-lasting. Instead of having to be popped just before intercourse, like Viagra, Lilly’s product can be taken in the morning, and the evening can be left to look after itself. Interbrand Wood, which also christened Lilly’s drug, has tried to reflect this potential for spontaneity and intimacy in its choice: ?Cialis?, whose soft sounds are a far cry from the hardness of Viagra.

Meanwhile Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), two European firms also planning jointly to introduce a drug for erectile dysfunction this year, have hit upon Levitra for their product. GSK says it plays upon the words ?le? (French for ?the?) and ?vita? (Latin for ?life?). The name’s resemblance to ?levitate?, however, is also a powerful reminder of the drug’s primary function.

Years ago, christening a new drug was a much simpler affair, with company scientists creating monikers that somehow reflected the drug’s chemical composition or biochemical mode of action. This is still true for the early stages of a new drug’s development. When drugs begin life as molecules in a test-tube, they are usually assigned basic product codes, such as GW695634, GSK’s reference for its new anti-HIV medicine, now in early testing. When a molecule is shown to have some useful activity, it is given an international non-proprietary name (INN), based on internationally agreed rules, which is submitted for approval to a special committee at the World Health Organisation.

By the time their shiny new products reach early clinical trials, drug companies increasingly turn to outside agencies (and spend as much as $200,000) to devise brand names that convey more than simple science. Creating a strong brand is especially important for drug promotion in America, where companies can advertise directly to patients and there are many ?me-too? rivals acting on the same disease in much the same way.

Like most branding, drug names follow fashion. Thirty years ago companies wanted their products to start with the letter ?A?, because they would be the first that doctors would stumble across when leafing through their prescribing compendiums. In the 1980s, names beginning with ?Z?, such as Zantac, Zocor and Zovirax, were all the rage. ?Today, V is the new Z,? according to Ms Robins?hence names like Vfend and Viagra.

The problem, according to Anthony Shore of Landor, another brand consultancy, is that good names are increasingly hard to find. There are roughly a million pharmaceutical and medical trademarks registered in America, and more elsewhere. So devising a short, snappy name for a product that will be acceptable around the world is a challenge.

Merely inventing a unique name for a drug that is legally available and culturally acceptable is also not enough: such trademarks must also be approved by regulatory agencies in America and Europe to ensure that they are not easily confused with other drugs, nor promise more than they can deliver. Lilly, for example, originally chose to call its new anti-sepsis drug Zovant, a name which America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected on the grounds that it was too similar to those of two existing drugs: Zofran for nausea, and Zosyn, an antibiotic. Lilly renamed its product Xigris instead.

The firm did not have much luck with Forteo either. The name was chosen for its new anti-osteoporosis medicine, and was accepted by the FDA. But it was rejected by the agency’s transatlantic counterpart, the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA), because the word is associated with ?strength? in Italian and Spanish, and therefore constitutes unacceptable promotion.

The FDA currently rejects about a third of all trade names submitted. Given language differences across Europe, getting a single name through the European Union is even harder. One company had to rethink the name of a medicine it hoped to call Atrelar when it turned out to mean ?to leash? in Portuguese.

Martin Harvey of the EMEA points out that things will only get trickier in Europe as the Union expands and brings in countries with non-Latinate languages. This is on top of the trouble that pharmaceutical giants increasingly encounter as they try to push their products into China and other Asian markets, with very different linguistic traditions and cultural associations. Coming up with a blockbuster name may soon be almost as tricky as coming up with a blockbuster drug in the first place.


MORE ON ASTROTURFING….A few days ago I wrote about Republican “astroturfing,” where a bunch of Republican activists all sent the same form letter to a bunch of small newspapers and got them published. It’s “artificial grass roots” letter writing ? astroturfing.

Today, Gary Stock ? who also apparently has too much time on his hands ? provides an exhaustive analysis of the phenomenon (scroll to the top after you click). Read it and weep.