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Posts Tagged ‘Bias’

If you don’t like the results, sit on it for 2 years.

January 21, 2012 4 comments

That’s what happened to a new (old) study that showed that selling junk food to kids in school doesn’t lead to overweight kids. According to a study by Penn State sociology professor Jennifer Van Hook, Competitive Food Sales in
Schools and Childhood Obesity: A Longitudinal Study
:

Employing fixed effects models and a natural experimental approach, they found that children’s
weight gain between fifth and eighth grades was not associated with the introduction or the duration
of exposure to competitive food sales in middle school. Also, the relationship between competitive foods
and weight gain did not vary significantly by gender, race/ethnicity, or family socioeconomic status, and it
remained weak and insignificant across several alternative model specifications (bolded for emphasis)

The real travesty is that Prof. Van Hook sat on the data for almost two years.

Van Hook said that the findings surprised the researchers so much that they held off publishing for nearly two years “because we kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there.”

This is a problem with a lot of junk science now. A lot of researchers fall victim to Belief Bias. They attribute the validity of the research based on what they believe the valid conclusion should be. In this case, Dr. Van Hook had already made up her mind that junk food in middles schools should lead to more overweight kids. When the data fails to show a correlation, they person simply thinks that there is an error in the data, not an error in themselves. They then try to tease (more like torture) the data to try and fit the preconceived paradigm. In this case, they couldn’t torture the data enough to find anything that fits what they think ought to be true. The opposite is also very true in Academia, when they have one piece of data that confirms their bias, they tout that data as proof positive that their hypothesis is right.

There is nothing wrong with this. This is how science is done. You make a hypothesis, form an experiment, look at the data to see if it fits with your hypothesis. Three things can happen; the data can fit your hypothesis, in which you try different experiment to test your hypothesis. If repeated experiment all confirm your hypothesis, you can make a reasonable assumption that your hypothesis is correct. The second thing to happen is that the data totally refutes your hypothesis, in which case you reject the hypothesis and try again. The third thing to happen (which is common) is that some sort of systemic error occurred in your experiments that makes the data inconclusive. The only thing to do is try to reformulate your experimental procedure to get rid of the error. That is what should happen.

The problem now is what to do with all that legislation that was passed aiming to help the children? Policies were put into place based off of bad science. They made the assumption that junk food in schools WERE the cause of obesity, before any data could be looked at. This is the central fallacy of most Statist (Paternal) solutions to societal problems. They are never really based on any actual science. They same can be said for cell phone bans around the country, when there is no evidence that banning cell phones while driving actual does anything?

The other thing about this junk food study, is that it shows once again that the conventional wisdom is usually wrong. It shows that Academics are the easiest people to fool. It shows the depths to which people will hold on to their beliefs when the data is staring them in the face telling them they are wrong. I do have to give credit where credit is due. The research, Dr. Van Hook, actually published the study. A lot of researchers get so married to their pet hypothesis, they will not publish anything that might refute it.

I highly recommend listening to this Econtalk podcast with Gary Taubes.

Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what we know about the relationship between diet and disease. Taubes argues that for decades, doctors, the medical establishment, and government agencies encouraged Americans to reduce fat in their diet and increase carbohydrates in order to reduce heart disease. Taubes argues that the evidence for the connection between fat in the diet and heart disease was weak yet the consensus in favor of low-fat diets remained strong. Casual evidence (such as low heart disease rates among populations with little fat in their diet) ignores the possibilities that other factors such as low sugar consumption may explain the relationship. Underlying the conversation is a theme that causation can be difficult to establish in complex systems such as the human body and the economy.

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Fackcheck.org making up its own facts.

It amazes me how many people think Factcheck.org is good place unbiased facts. I guess all you have to do now a days is to have something in your name and people will believe it. Facts are stubborn things, they are always open to interpretation. Like Statistics, facts can lie. By omitting a fact here or interpreting something symbolically instead of literally, you can change what a fact may or may not mean. It goes without saying that when you go to a car dealership, just because the guy calls himself Honest Sam, doesn’t make him honest. The same level of scrutiny should be held to any person, place or organization that calls themselves, Fact Checkers.

Over the course of the 2008 election, factcheck.org just so happened to always be there to “fact check” what anyone said about Obama. How convenient right? Of course, Obama’s speeches and statements didn’t get “fact checked” nearly as often as Hillary’s or McCain’s. What I’m trying to suggest is that Factcheck.org is biased, heavily biased towards far Left, liberal views. This poses a bit of a problem most of the time. They quote sources just fine, like everyone should. But most people don’t bother to read the sources, they stop at what fackcheck.org says. This is a fallacy, an appeal to authority. Here is a good article on why Factcheck.org isn’t reliable as well.

So when Factcheck.org leaves out a fact that might contradict itself, no one knows about it unless they actually read the entire supporting documentation. I call this lying by omission, well not just me that’s actually what it’s called. These charges are hard to prove because the glories of the internets allow a website to update at will. Meaning, they can update later, after their site has been referenced to add the additional information. There are other ways of showing bias, by interpreting words to mean the way you want them to mean. This is a good example of just that.

Needless to say, I’m more the skeptical of whatever Factcheck.org says, I prefer to read the supporting materials myself. I pretty much only use factcheck.org for it’s linkfest. I was surprised though by this article about Ken Blackwell. Blackwell was on the Daily Show, when Stewart mentioned the amount of “czars” Bush had compared to Obama.

Stewart: Not all the so-called czars were appointed by Obama, and again — and this is just from an organization called FactCheck.org, and just because they have “fact” in their title doesn’t necessarily mean anything — but again, George Bush had more czars.

Blackwell: No he didn’t.

This is were Factcheck.org was brought in. Here’s what they said.

That’s not what we did — at all. We applied the same standards to Bush that Fox News’ Glenn Beck applied to Obama when he said the president had 32 czars. Beck said that his list was “based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar.” Our list collects the names of every position that was referred to as a “czar” in the media, with links to examples for every one. We did not count multiple holders of the same position, and we also discounted people who were only called “czars” in articles about how many “czars” a particular administration had.

This is where their bias shows. They refer to the media, by doing a lexis search. I won’t say that the idea that the media would use the term deliberately as a smear, didn’t occur to them, because I’m sure it did. They just choose to ignore that question. Blackwell’s comment is in itself a smear against Obama. But so where all those time when the media used it against Bush. A smear is just another term used for a lie that is used to damage an opponent. It’s ad hominem.  In essence, Factcheck.org is using ad hominem as a fact check tool.

The honest thing to say would have been to say,” ‘Czar’ is a subjective term used by the media to damage an opponent by ad hominem attack. Since there is no objective definition of “czar,’ we cannot form any rational basis to check these claims. All we can say is they are nothing more than attacks.”

They don’t do that though, they instead see an opportunity to portray subjective opinion as objective facts. They take it, run with it and show their bias. Thomas Sowell has a phrase he uses for such a thing, “verbal virtuosity.”

Factcheck.org’s tell is when they try to counter Blackwell’s claim that, applying the same standard to both, Axlerod should be considered a “Czar” since Rove was considered one.

For example, they list Karl Rove as “Domestic Policy Czar.” In the real word (as opposed to The Daily Show world), Karl Rove was White House Senior Advisor. That’s important because President Obama has a White House Senior Advisor too, David Axelrod. Yet mysteriously, the sage scholars at Fact Check failed to list Axelrod as Domestic Policy Czar for Obama, which would add a 33rd czar to Obama’s list.

It seems logical right. If one person is a “Czar” then another person, acting in the exact same capacity, in function and in form, should be considered a “Czar” as well right? Of course not, if you listen to Factcheck.org.

That’s because Harold Meyerson called Rove Bush’s “domestic policy czar” in an August 15, 2007, op-ed in the Washington Post, whereas we found no instances of the media using the same term for Axelrod. “Czar” is a title bestowed by the media, and they have so far declined to bestow it on Axelrod.

Again, they are right only in that “Czar” is a media term. They don’t tell you how subjective that term is and how it’s used by the media as ad hominem. The most we can say between Obama’s and Bush’s “Czars” is that the media has been far kinder to Obama than Bush. Which of course is no surprize at all!

Of course, you know I can’t not say anything about AGW and Factcheck.org right!

Here is their “fact check” on ClimateGate.

In late November 2009, more than 1,000 e-mails between scientists at the Climate Research Unit of the U.K.’s University of East Anglia were stolen and made public by an as-yet-unnamed hacker. Climate skeptics are claiming that they show scientific misconduct that amounts to the complete fabrication of man-made global warming. We find that to be unfounded:

  1. The messages, which span 13 years, show a few scientists in a bad light, being rude or dismissive. An investigation is underway, but there’s still plenty of evidence that the earth is getting warmer and that humans are largely responsible.
  2. Some critics say the e-mails negate the conclusions of a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but the IPCC report relied on data from a large number of sources, of which CRU was only one.
  3. E-mails being cited as “smoking guns” have been misrepresented. For instance, one e-mail that refers to “hiding the decline” isn’t talking about a decline in actual temperatures as measured at weather stations. These have continued to rise, and 2009 may turn out to be the fifth warmest year ever recorded. The “decline” actually refers to a problem with recent data from tree rings.

If you go to the bottom, you’ll notice that the factcheck.org site was “corrected” on December 22, 2009. Why didn’t they make any corrections or updates on how the IPCC report relied on biased data? Why did the author use the Union of Concerned Scientists as a source? Doesn’t he know how biased that group is, which you can become a member for only a $25.oo, tax deducable “gift.”

Of course the author does, he knows exactly how biased Union of Concerned Scientists are. Which is exactly why he defers to them as a “source”.

Just remember all this the next time you go to Factcheck.org or any other site for information, including mine. Everyone and everything has bias. The best thing to do, is read read read, get as much information as possible, knowing that most of it will be biased based on the presenter of the information (the Author or group writing the article), then form an opinion. Don’t just parrot what you hear on the news or media.