Creative Destruction

May 26, 2006

Going Over to the Dark Side

Filed under: Blogroll,Statistical Method — Brutus @ 3:58 pm

I posted in the past on the fallibility of using numbers to win support for one's arguments. So it's a little ironic, I suppose, that I've found a third blog based on statistical methods to add to our blogroll to fill my quota: Freakonomics. The idea behind the book of the same title and the blog is that by crunching enough numbers and controlling for enough factors, the truth behind seemingly obvious cause-effect relationships can be revealed. From the blog:

[E]conomics is, at root, the study of incentives — how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of — well, everything … Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work.

Happily, the authors appear to limit their inquiries to economics, as opposed to just any sort of numerical evidence. For instance, I have a real problem with polling in particular. I've been called upon to participate in quite a few phone polls over the past few months, and I really object to the way certain questions are posed and the way the answers require a virtual shoehorn to fit within. Just one example: in preparation for a speech I recently gave, I found a poll conducted by CBS News/New York Times earlier this year that had two interesting (if problematical) questions:

In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the news media — such as newspapers, TV, and radio — when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly: a great deal, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?


In general, how much of the time do you think the news media tells the truth: all of the time, most of the time, only some of the time, or hardly ever?

Numbers reported in response to the questions were somewhat divergent, but I can't say that the nature of the questions themselves are so different. Mere syntax was enough to produce divergent results. Those results were also broken down by political affiliation (Rep., Dem., and Independent), which I find questionable, since even though one can register with only one party, one may not adhere strictly to only that party's positions.

At any rate, the Freakonomics blog will make a good addition to our blogroll for its clear-eyed, apolitical approach to examining evidence and busting myths through unflinching statistical methodology.



  1. He’s just in it for the chicks. I question his unflinching dedication to evidence.

    No, really, it seems interesting.

    Comment by Tuomas — May 26, 2006 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t know too much ’bout him, other than Kling, an economist who I enjoy, seems to have a real disliking for the guy.

    But he’s a good enough writer and a smart enough guy, in my limited experience.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — May 28, 2006 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

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