Julian Sanchez

Pundits v. Pollsters

The pundits got spanked severely for their incessant spin in the face of reality in the US Presidential election. In particular Dick Morris, who was so outrageously wrong, hell bent on spinning Mitt Romney into the Whitehouse, he is?thoroughly?discredited.

One thing I have learned from the US elections is to take the blinkers off and look at the data. Julian Sanchez?explains?why partisans are poor at reading polls.

Ideally, professional pollsters have no particular agenda beyond accurately forecasting the outcome of a race. But pundits are trying to influence outcomes, and forecasts don?t just predict outcomes, but at least partially help to determine them. There?s plenty of social psychology literature showing bandwagon effects in elections: Voters on the fence often pick the candidate they expect to triumph anyway, because it?s nice to be on the winning side. Campaign workers become demoralized if they think they?re laboring those long hours for a hopeless cause. A 20 percent chance of victory is still a chance, after all, and you don?t want people throwing in the towel prematurely. Here as in many areas of life, when the odds are heavily against you, being a perfectly accurate assessor of your chances can actually make the odds worse. If you are rational, you will want to have some irrational beliefs. So I don?t expect supporters of a candidate who?s unlikely to win on election eve to?acknowledge this, any more than I expect the coach of an underdog team to deliver out an honest read of the stats as a pre-game pep talk. We don?t make fun of coaches for this, because we all understand they?re engaged in a bit of socially appropriate bullshitting.

Is filesharing like shoplifting?

The record company fat cats would have you think so, the movie barons likewise. They say that file-sharing is like shop-lifting. If they want to use the?comparison?then let’s extend it.?Julian Sanchez from Ars Technica does exactly that in his article on the dodgy accounting and lies that the movie barons and record company executives and their lobbyist?like?to spout when they cry about ?the harms that piracy causes and why they support draconian laws like SOPA and PIPA:

As a rough analogy, since antipiracy crusaders are fond of equating filesharing with shoplifting: suppose the CEO of Wal-Mart came to Congress demanding a $50 million program to deploy FBI agents to frisk suspicious-looking teens in towns near Wal-Marts. A lawmaker might, without for one instant doubting that shoplifiting is a bad thing, question whether this is really the optimal use of federal law enforcement resources. The CEO indignantly points out that shoplifting kills one million adorable towheaded orphans each year. The proof is right here in this study by the Wal-Mart Institute for Anti-Shoplifting Studies. The study sources this dramatic claim to a newspaper article, which quotes the CEO of Wal-Mart asserting (on the basis of private data you can’t see) that shoplifting kills hundreds of orphans annually. And as a footnote explains, it seemed prudent to round up to a million. I wish this were just a joke, but as readers of my previous post will recognize, that’s literally about the level of evidence we’re dealing with here.

In short, piracy is certainly one problem in a world filled with problems. But politicians and journalists seem to have been persuaded to take it largely on faith that it’s a uniquely dire and pressing problem that demands dramatic remedies with little time for deliberation. On the data available so far, though, reports of the death of the industry seem much exaggerated.


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