Creative Destruction

July 16, 2006

Judging Iraq

Filed under: Debate,Statistical Method — Adam Gurri @ 4:05 pm

Howdy everyone!  Know I haven’t been the biggest voice around these parts for a while, but I figured I’d just dive in.


First let me just come out and say that I understand Ampersand’s response to Bob’s recent post. Bob voiced his opinion, but obviously didn’t provide a lot of information beyond what it was that he believed.

However, if Amp’s going to be calling for evidence, I think a little balance might be good.  As in, where is his evidence, precisely?

With a subject as serious as this, it would seem appropriate to take our method a little more seriously.  In the article that started this discussion, there is very little effort to make a case that rape or abuse or violent crime of any sort has changed, either for better or for worse, in Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Looking further at the “Hidden War on Women” article, we get a lot of “things are worse” and “we’ve observed an increase in the number of women being sexually abused and raped”, but no account of how these observations are made or recorded, and how it is being determined that things have reached a worse level than they were previously.

Ampersand called for evidence from a source that is not “laughably partisan”.  I’m not sure how he defines that, but for my own part I don’t particularly care how partisan a person is–or which party they subscribe to.  All I care about is soundness of method, because there is little else to satisfy my desire to be assured that I am not being bullshitted by someone who is potentially bullshitting themself.

Feeling passionate about your beliefs is all well and good.  But if you’re going to get fired up with righteousness over a perceived injustice, then I would hope you are taking your subject seriously enough to explain your method of interpreting the information that’s being thrown at us.

This is the age of information, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m sure I could find plenty of accounts arguing that we’ve allowed Afghanistan to be consumed by Alien Monkeys, were I to scour to internet for long enough.  The important thing is not how many accounts you can find–the important thing is setting a standard in order to determine what should be taken seriously.

…./rant.

14 Comments »

  1. Adam who’s that now?

    Comment by Robert — July 16, 2006 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  2. Don’t you sass me!

    Comment by Adam Gurri — July 16, 2006 @ 11:15 pm | Reply

  3. How’s this for sass, Adam…

    I finally got us the link from Instapundit, and you weren’t around to see it.

    HAH!

    Comment by Off Colfax — July 17, 2006 @ 12:41 am | Reply

  4. Don’t you sass me!

    You don’t scare me. You’ve been gone so long, you’ve forgotten the admin passwords. You’re powerless, old man!

    (We’ll ignore the part about me being twenty years older than you.)

    (Oh, God.)

    Comment by Robert — July 17, 2006 @ 1:33 am | Reply

  5. OC, I see that! Good stuff!😀

    Robert, if you come here one day and all your posts are confessions that you wear women’s clothing, you’ll know I’ll have found that admin password again.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — July 17, 2006 @ 7:55 am | Reply

  6. Looking further at the “Hidden War on Women” article, we get a lot of “things are worse” and “we’ve observed an increase in the number of women being sexually abused and raped”, but no account of how these observations are made or recorded, and how it is being determined that things have reached a worse level than they were previously.

    Actually, many specific authorities are quoted in Rosen’s article, and you can follow the various linked reports (by such organizations as Human Rights Watch) and see for yourself what evidence went into their analysis and conclusions.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  7. Yes, but methodology–look at this one, for instance

    There has been a massive increase in reported cases of sexual abuse in Iraq since the days of Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to the Women’s Rights Association (WRA), a
    local NGO.

    The WRA recently conducted an in-depth study into the sexual abuse of women after receiving continued allegations of such maltreatment since December 2005.

    in-depth study? What does that mean? How was it conducted?

    And this is a tragic, but ultimately anecdotal, story.

    On the whole, there may be “authorities” cited–there are certainly organizations–but I see no evidence of serious scientific method.

    Whether they are scientific journals professing objectivity, or activist organizations pretending nothing of the sort, whether their assessments are optimistic or pessimistic–is all of no consequence.

    Without method, conclusions are nothing but base assertions of belief.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — July 19, 2006 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  8. The important thing is not how many accounts you can find–the important thing is setting a standard in order to determine what should be taken seriously.

    Okay, let’s start with this. What standard do you suggest as fair?

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 10:52 pm | Reply

  9. If the thesis is “there is an upward trend in the number of women being abused in Iraq”, then I would merely want to know how this was being measured, what the margin of error was, and why even with that margin of error your thesis still was valid.

    The key to setting a standard, I think, is zeroing in on that margin of error. What were the time constraints of the study? How big a subset of the overall population did it draw upon? Was it limited to certain areas? And so on.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — July 19, 2006 @ 11:28 pm | Reply

  10. Adam, that’s a “let them eat cake” standard. It might seem to make sense in the privileged comfort of the western blogosphere, but it’s unlikely that those dealing with the situation on the ground have the resources to undertake the kinds of study you envisage. I don’t think it follows that their observations are nothing more than “bare assertions of belief”.

    Comment by Daran — July 20, 2006 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  11. It might seem to make sense in the privileged comfort of the western blogosphere, but it’s unlikely that those dealing with the situation on the ground have the resources to undertake the kinds of study you envisage.

    If we have no means of measuring the situation on the ground beyond the anecdotal, then why on Earth would anyone feel justified in making passionate assertion with any conviction?

    I’m not saying that we can be 100% certain of anything. I’m not even saying we can be more than 50% certain of anything.

    But if there is no method at all behind this beyond gathering a handful of statements, then drawing conclusions is simply a matter of allowing oneself to believe what you already wanted to believe in the first place.

    I don’t think it follows that their observations are nothing more than “bare assertions of belief”.

    If you state that “there were more women who reported being abused in my clinic this month than there were in the last one”, then you are making an observation.

    If you state that “There are an increasing number of abuses occurring on the whole”, then you are going beyond observation, and without any kind of methodology to judge the accuracy of that statement by, you really are doing nothing but giving a casual opinion.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — July 21, 2006 @ 12:19 am | Reply

  12. Adam:

    But if there is no method at all behind this beyond gathering a handful of statements, then drawing conclusions is simply a matter of allowing oneself to believe what you already wanted to believe in the first place.

    The “handful of statements” we have about the abuse of women aren’t floating out there in outer space. There’s also a handful of statements about the targetting of men for murder. And a handful of statements about the corrupt awarding of contracts. And a handful of statements about coalition forces abusing non-combatant Iraqis. None of these handfuls could meet the standards you set out, but taken together they present a powerful and cohesive picture of a society in meltdown.

    Against that backdrop, folding your arms and saying “X hasn’t been established to a 90% confidence level, therefore we can’t discuss X” is the same kind of wishful thinking shown by tobacco industry spokespeople who used to go on TV to point out that there was no proof that smoking posed any risk to blonde-haired Appalachian goatherders.

    If you state that “There are an increasing number of abuses occurring on the whole”, then you are going beyond observation, and without any kind of methodology to judge the accuracy of that statement by, you really are doing nothing but giving a casual opinion.

    God forbit that we should ever allow the opinions of Iraqis to inform our thinking!

    Comment by Daran — July 21, 2006 @ 3:17 am | Reply

  13. The “handful of statements” we have about the abuse of women aren’t floating out there in outer space. There’s also a handful of statements about the targetting of men for murder. And a handful of statements about the corrupt awarding of contracts. And a handful of statements about coalition forces abusing non-combatant Iraqis. None of these handfuls could meet the standards you set out, but taken together they present a powerful and cohesive picture of a society in meltdown.

    Oh do they now?

    You know, there are a lot of statements floating around saying that the holocaust didn’t really happen. And that Pearl Harbor was just a setup so that FDR would have an excuse to get into war.

    Now, these statements taken alone just sound paranoid, but if you gather many of them in one place, then they’re magically transformed into real evidence!

    God forbit that we should ever allow the opinions of Iraqis to inform our thinking!

    It is one thing to have your opinion informed by Iraqis. It is another to pretend that:

    a) The opinion of the Iraqis that one journalist has decided to quote are representative, and

    b) The theories of a handful of Iraqis can really create a representative picture.

    And your snide remark that this is the same logic that allowed the tobacco industry spokepeople to say there was no proof of smoking being risky is absurd.

    Studies on smoking were numerous, and after enough trials, statistical corralations become more and more valid.

    But the reason that those studies were valid is precisely why these cited opinions are not–we’re being presented with a biased sample. It’s like those toothpaste companies that can state that their product has improved people’s teeth a certain percent of the time–but it turns out that that percentage is of the 12 people they tested it on. And probably not the first 12 people, either–if you get what I saying.

    God forbid we should ask for a little more than who an activist group interviewed, Daran.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — July 21, 2006 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  14. […] This will be a continuation from my previous post. Daran’s response in particular deserves to be looked at here.  In it, he argued that I was simply setting the standards so high that no amount of information could realistically meet them; that what I was doing was tantamount to what tobacco companies have done every time they argue that there is no “real proof” that smoking increases the risk of cancer. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » The Era of Passion — July 21, 2006 @ 6:26 pm | Reply


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