Political Animal

Shorter Tim Lambert

SHORTER TIM LAMBERT….Say it after me: “John Lott is a hack, John Lott is a hack…..”

Here’s the nickel version of today’s installment: a couple of guys have written an article for the Stanford Law Review in which they say that Lott’s statistics are all wet. Now, econometricians are forever telling other econometricians that their models are no good because they have failed to take into account some obscure variable or another, so us laymen could be excused for nodding off at this point and just waiting a couple of years to see if a scholarly consensus emerges.

But there’s more, and this doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand: basically, the SLR article took Lott’s model and applied it to more recent data. Result: nada. So Lott and a couple of other guys responded by doing their own analysis, and their conclusion is that the model does work. Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of competing analyses: Lott and his partners actually miscoded the data, and by coincidence it was systematically miscoded to favor their hypothesis every time. Can you imagine?

Lott has been using this miscoded data for a while, but it turns out that he took his name off the SLR response before it was published, so presumably he knew what was going on and didn’t want to put his name to it in a journal article. Or maybe he was just covering his ass. Or maybe the sheer force of the SLR argument has actually convinced him to change his mind.

(Ha ha, just kidding on that last one, folks. I do slay myself sometimes, yes I do.)

As usual, Tim Lambert has all the gory details.

Karl Speaks!….Or Rather, Doesn’t

KARL SPEAKS!….OR RATHER, DOESN’T….Via Atrios, Republicans really, really, really don’t want to talk about gay sex:

Santorum’s defenders are under a gag order. Officials at the White House and Republican National Committee told GOP insiders yesterday, by conference call, voice mail and e-mail not to comment about Santorum’s comments, letting him speak for himself.

….Also not responding to requests for comment were: U.S. Reps. Todd Platts, R-York; Tim Holden, D-Schuylkill County; and Joe Pitts, R-Chester County. Also not returning calls were state Senate President Pro Tem Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Blair; state House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia; and about a dozen top GOP officials.

The fact that Republican strategists are so terrified of this shows just how good an issue it is for Democrats. Karl Rove is no dummy, and although conservatives like to tell us liberals that we’re kidding ourselves to think that our social agenda is popular with Middle America, he knows better. The majority of Americans might not be ready for gay marriage quite yet, but by large numbers they are opposed to both overt homophobia and social nannyism of the type that’s common in the Republican party.

When Karl Rove is running scared, we’ve got a good issue. And he’s running scared.

Forcing ‘Em Out of the Closet

FORCING ‘EM OUT OF THE CLOSET….Virginia Postrel writes today about the policy questions regarding gay rights ? should sodomy be illegal? ? vs. the constitutional question ? should the federal government be allowed to overturn a state law on this issue?

The policy question is also the one to which Andrew Sullivan has primarily addressed his remarks. It’s far more interesting–and, in my view, much easier–than the constitutional question. But it’s the question conservative pundits mostly want to dodge.

I couldn’t agree more. Too often we allow conservatives to retreat into abstract legal arguments instead of forcing them to take a simple stand: in this case, do you think the government should prohibit gay sex or don’t you? Not should it be able to, but should it? Not is it sinful, but should it be illegal?

The result of this fainthearted approach is that instead of exposing Rick Santorum’s ideological kin as flat out supporters of bans on gay sex, a position that is generally unpopular among moderates, we allow them to hide behind technical discussions of federalism and church-state relationships and slippery slopes that don’t exist in real life. So how do we force them ? so to speak ? out of the closet on this? What’s the right issue?

Who’s Afraid of Mathematics?

WHO’S AFRAID OF MATHEMATICS?….Despite the problems Britain is allegedly having with declining math proficiency ? or perhaps because of it ? a teacher addressing a conference in Bournemouth recently suggested dropping math as a compulsory subject. Simon Jenkins said “huzzah” to that in the London Times, and Chris Bertram had this reaction:

It is always a comfort to find a view with which I strongly disagree being promoted by Simon Jenkins in the Times, for that fact on its own strengthens my confidence that I am right. Today’s diatribe is against the teaching of mathematics in schools….

The more I think about this, though, the more uncomfortable I become. I am a considerable mathophile myself, and even intended at one point to major in math. I’ve long considered calculus to be one of the most elegant and beautiful creations of the human mind, and Isaac Newton is my hero for inventing it. (And let’s hear no talk about Leibniz on this score, OK?) Even today, I enjoy reading about mathematics, and I imagine that lunch with John Derbyshire would be quite enjoyable if we stuck to discussions of mathematical puzzles and prime numbers.

And yet, despite all this, I frequently find myself wondering if there’s a practical point to all this. After all, the fact that I love math doesn’t make it a law of nature that everyone should love ? or even learn ? math. I can’t honestly say that I actually use it much, and the vast majority of people probably never perform any math beyond addition and subtraction.

(In fact, I suspect that if you took a hundred people off the street, 95 of them would be unable to perform long division. And they wouldn’t care.)

So aside from the 10-15% of people who take up professions that require a mathematical background, is there much point in teaching math beyond about the sixth grade to the rest of them? I suspect it serves little purpose, and despite what people like me would like to think, I very much doubt that it instills any useful habits of mind either.

Frankly, if I had to make a choice, I’d prefer that high school students were more thoroughly grounded in history or geography ? or even simply more thoroughly grounded in basic math ? than in advanced mathematics. Then again, maybe I’m missing something. Any thoughts?