Your Use Of Data For Any Purpose But Validating David Brooks’s Lazy Intuitions Infuriates David Brooks

Andrew Gelman gets it exactly right about David Brooks’s attempt to lash back at being thoroughly humiliated by Nate Silver without responding directly. Anybody who reads sportswriting has seen Brooks’s argument a million times. In its purest form, it can be found in blog posts by blogger Murray Chass. You spend five paragraphs railing against geeks in their basements with their sliderules and VIC-20s and why don’t they watch the damn game rather than doing their math homework, and then the rest of your blog post online column arguing that Pitcher A should win the Cy Young award over the much better Pitcher B not because you think Pitcher A is better but because Pitcher A has a higher total in a nearly useless statistical category you remember in a fond haze of nostalgia from your days as a child when a win was a win and you’d get five bees for a quarter and Warren Harding brought some real integrity to the White House, dammit.

60 comments on this post.
  1. Aidan:

    An actual quote from Michael Kinsley’s latest:

    There are studies suggesting that the minimum wage doesn’t really destroy jobs. These get hauled out whenever an increase in the minimum wage is contemplated. They are hard to believe. In fact, I don’t believe them. The conclusion is just too counterintuitive and too convenient.

  2. david mizner:

    Check out this reasoning:

    Big data has trouble with big problems…For example, we’ve had huge debates over the best economic stimulus, with mountains of data, and as far as I know not a single major player in this debate has been persuaded by data to switch sides.

    When right-wingers ignore all the data proving them wrong, it’s the data’s fault!

  3. david mizner:

    Whoops I blew the blockquote — the last sentence is mine.

  4. Decrease Mather:

    A: The most important statistic for a lead-off hitter is stolen bases.

    B: Actually, it’s On Base %.

    A: Nerd!

  5. Bill Altreuter:

    David Brooks’ head is stuffed with straw.

  6. The Dark Avenger:

    “Fuckin’ statistics, how do they work?”

  7. Bill Murray:

    Is it really counter-intuitive to say giving people who spend all their money some more money that they will spend will hurt the economy.

    It seems more counter-intuitive to “think” that “rational” business people will fire everybody making less than the new minimum wage, because their new compensation would be greater than their value to the company

  8. Tom:

    So I wore an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time…

  9. spencer:

    Relying on intuition instead of data for an inherently quantitative question is the definition of idiocy. And possibly laziness.

  10. David W.:

    Christ, what an asshole.

  11. Keaaukane:

    I like this, a political remake of Wizard of OZ. Sarah Palin as Dorthy. Jonah Goldberg as the cowardly lion ( a tough casting call, there’s lots of chicken-hawks to pick from, but Goldberg’s got the build for the role).

    But who for Tin Man? Romney maybe?

  12. Bob:

    But Warren Harding DID bring real integrity to the White House, damnit!

  13. The Dark Avenger:

    No, he’d be the Scarecrow, you’d have to have Virgin Ben Shapiro as the Tinman with no heart.

  14. janastas359:

    Beat me to it!

  15. pete:

    Bu-bu-bu … not just an asshole but a contrarian asshole — practically the inventor of the contrarian shtick — being contrarian by — wait for it — refusing to accept the contrarian position on the grounds that it’s contrarian. This is not just jumping the metaphorical, it’s swan-diving straight down the plughole.

  16. Keaaukane:

    No, we’ve already got Brooks’ head stuffed with straw, the costume dept will go nuts if we change now. Unless we do 2 scarecrows.

    The catch phrase can be “I think we’re not in DC anymore”

  17. David Hunt:

    So which singular member of his staff/cabinet are you referring to there?

  18. Scott S.:

    Glenn Reynolds.

  19. Murc:

    This might just be one of those things you hear on the West Wing, but didn’t Warren Harding impregnate his mistress in the Republican cloak room?

  20. Mister Harvest:

    Yeah, but in a classy way.

  21. Erik Loomis:

    A woman claimed he got her pregnant before he was president. I believe the woman in the cloak room was a different woman.

  22. Hogan:

    His mistress. Her middle name was Integrity.

    And now you know . . . the rest of the story.

  23. Aaron:

    When I managed a bakery/deli, way back in the day, the minimum wage would occasionally go up. I would try to adjust the wages such that the longer-term employees got a bit more of a raise than the statutory increase. But I never, ever considered reducing my staff – I didn’t have any fat to cut. (Well, speaking literally we did have fat to cut, being as we served corned beef, pastrami and the like, but we needed those employees to do the cutting. ;-) )

    What businesses and industries are we talking about that have loads of minimum wage workers but can get by with appreciably fewer workers? Do they exist somewhere other than in Mr. Kinsley’s imagination?

  24. Aaron:

    I picture him more as an Alice in Wonderland character, as opposed to a resident of Oz. A slithy tove? (Does he like cheese?)

  25. Dr.KennethNoisewater:

    I heard the cost is just passed along to the consumer, that it’s a minimal amount, and is in general easily absorbed by economy.

    I think that’s how it works, Michael.

  26. JKTHs:

    It also rings of “both sides do it” even though the data almost entirely supported the Keynesians etc.

  27. Cody:

    Classic case of facts having a liberal bias.

    “I examined the Data, and it didn’t agree with my intuition. Only liberals would believe these facts!”

  28. Mister Harvest:

    There you go with your “facts” and “reality” and “comprehensive set of studies.”

    If the employers could have gotten by without those employees, they would have, regardless of what the minimum wage is. Kinsley’s oh-so-amazing “intuition” requires that McDonald’s franchisees are keeping people around just out of the kindness of their hearts, but as soon as the minimum wage goes up, they’re out the door because the business can run fine without them. That’s a pretty stupid “intuition.”

  29. Sev:

    Indeed, and I think your point along with what Bill Murray says above is why raising min wage has never cost jobs. Of course the business owner is annoyed at having to pay more, not thinking about the extra business s/he may be getting from overall increased level of income in the area. Then again, there is undoubtedly a particular intangible pleasure in watching people scurry around to do your bidding while you pay them peanuts.

  30. Joel Patterson:

    Off on a tangent, but reaction to Brooks’ “data” column sparked some good posts by Kevin Drum and Bob Somerby.

  31. Manju:

    After reading this sub-thread, I’ve finally decided on my pornstar name.

  32. FMguru:

    He’s the guy who keeps sneaking onto the set and trying to have sex with the tin robot costume.

  33. The Dark Avenger:

    I read “The President’s Daughter” when I was a kid, and your recollection was wrong.

  34. whetstone:

    I tend to think Gelman doesn’t go far enough:

    Big data has trouble with big problems…. [L]et’s say you are trying to stimulate an economy in a recession. You don’t have an alternate society to use as a control group. For example, we’ve had huge debates over the best economic stimulus, with mountains of data, and as far as I know not a single major player in this debate has been persuaded by data to switch sides.

    Yes, the reason “not a single major player” has changed his or her mind is the clearly the data’s fault. What we need is more ideology.

  35. Snarki, child of Loki:

    IIRC, there’s a DC beltway bridge overpass that frames a view of the Mormon temple in the distance.

    Some enterprising graffiti artist tagged the overpass with “Surrender Dorothy!”

    Gotta work that in somehow…but that would put Romney as the Wizard. Or the overly officious doorman/guard. Well, a big puffed-up seller of snake-oil in any case.

  36. Bill Murray:

    Big data has trouble with big problems…. [L]et’s say you are trying to stimulate an economy in a recession. You don’t have an alternate society to use as a control group. For example, we’ve had huge debates over the best economic stimulus, with mountains of data, and as far as I know not a single major player in this debate has been persuaded by data to switch sides.

    Ignoring Republican obstructionism, are we limited to the “best” economic stimulus? or could we use a variety of stimulus methods like we always, rather than argue about what’s best

  37. bianca steele:

    While you’re defending geeks, it might be a good time to ask somebody to fix the broken script on your site.

  38. commie atheist:

    2014 – the year that the Harding correspondence will be unsealed. Any Harding scholars salivating yet?

  39. Jim:

    So what’s this guy’s major beef with Star Trek, anyway?

  40. DrDick:

    David Brooks, dumbing down our political and social discourse since 1996. Muddying the waters and confusing the issues is what he gets paid for. That and dining at the Applebee’s salad bar.

  41. olexicon:

    Warren G. Hardon?

    Just taking a stab like harding in a cloakroom

  42. cpinva:

    paul ryan.

    “But who for Tin Man?”

    the “granny killer” himself.

  43. redrob64:

    that would put Romney as the Wizard. Or the overly officious doorman/guard. Well, a big puffed-up seller of snake-oil in any case.

    Any one of those roles would work for Romney, no?

  44. Manju:

    Nah…”Randy Johnson”. Weren’t we talking baseball?

  45. Bill Murray:

    but it us par for the neo-classical economics course

  46. calling all toasters:

    Whereas there is nothing convenient about simply denying evidence without bothering to make an argument. “It’s hard work!” — GW Bush.

  47. CD:

    Plus Brooks clearly has no clue about either macroeconomics or data. The macro arguments about stimulus require relatively little data; they just require an ability to think rigorously about it. “Big data” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data) generally means data sets so large, and/or of such high dimensionality, that it’s hard to see what’s in them. That’s not the problem with macroeconomic data.

    It’s this casual throwing around of terms like “huge” that’s infuriating — laziness approaching Richard Cohen levels.

  48. laura:

    If low-wage labor markets are basically monopsonistic, then minimum wages shouldn’t have much or any effect except in the very long run (and maybe not even then). That’s pretty basic stuff you get in second year economics courses.

    It’s an open/empirical question what effect minimum wage hikes have on employment, but it’s not that theoretically implausible (like Kinsley says) that they’d have very small effects.

  49. mds:

    Q: What do you call a grossly overrated pompous ass who repeatedly spouts obfuscatory bullshit for a living, presumes to be an expert on whatever he turns his mind to without any actual grasp of the subject, and gets all huffy and defensive when called on his ignorance and/or mendacity?

    A: Humble.

  50. The Dark Avenger:

    I was something of an amateur Mencken scholar in my youth, and I didn’t know that Mencken ‘put it on the map‘ by reviewing it:

    He said he was not interested in Britton’s “highly romantic” account of “Warren’s mushy love-making.” He was more interested in the efforts of the “Comstocks” to prevent publication, which he thought would eventually give the book wide circulation (he was right) and of Britton’s portrait of Harding as the worst head of state in modern history. In the review, Mencken said the Carnegie Institution should put a young researcher to work immediately writing a complete history of Harding’s administration. “It will throw more light on the inner workings of the American system of government than even the secret archives of the Anti-Saloon League or the Ku Klux Klan.”

  51. Anonymous:

    He’d actual y do a good job at that part. “I’d be friends with the sparrow ADN the hoy who shoots the arrow”… He has the face for it.

  52. Djur:

    A lot of journalists have taken just enough economics to have seen those nice straight demand curves, but didn’t pay enough attention to the concept of ‘elasticity’.

    Which I learned about in high school economics, so it’s hardly high-level stuff.

    Demand for labor is fairly inelastic. Nobody can seriously argue otherwise. Literally the only argument is whether it’s pretty inelastic or really inelastic, and the degree to which that elasticity varies between industries. And simple logic indicates that demand for minimum-wage labor is particularly inelastic — wherever it’s been easy to consolidate, outsource, or automate, that’s already happened. If you think Wal-Mart and McDonald’s employ a single person in excess of their needs… if you think both of those companies wouldn’t go out of their way and spend extra money now to cut their labor force by even 1% over the next 10 years… you’re not living in the real world.

  53. Djur:

    I always have to code-switch when people outside the IT/CS fields use ‘big data’. Inside the tech world, it’s a term of art mostly describing a particular type of problem — ‘big data’ is what you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with such big datasets that you need specialized technology designed for storing and analyzing huge amounts of stuff. Most programmers work with relatively small datasets which can be easily stored on a single consumer-class device and queried in at most a couple of seconds; ‘big data’ is when neither of those are true. So it literally just does mean “a whole shit-ton of data”.

    In the wider context, ‘big data’ seems to mean something more analogous to ‘big oil’, or like what people used to call the ‘information economy’ — businesses based on the storage and analysis of large amounts of data, like Google.

  54. DocAmazing:

    Eso es.

  55. bob_is_boring:

    This x 10.

    It’s like Brooks saw “Big Data” on a magazine cover in an airport, took some great hallucinogens, and spent a sleepy, delirious plane ride imagining himself up a story about what that term means.

  56. Mayson Lancaster:

    Back in the ’80s, Forbes quoted an academic study which looked at McD’s franchises and found that those who paid somewhat more than minimum wage were more profitable than those which only paid minimum wage. Allowed for socioeconomics/demographics of the locations, too. Seems you get better employees, and less turnover.

  57. Halloween Jack:

    Funny, I was thinking of Brooks’ argument as “Your Vulcan ‘logic’ is no match for the Power of Bullshit. Example 1: My career.”

  58. olexicon:

    Dick Armey, Dick Pound?

  59. Manju:

    Dick Butkis

  60. mark f:

    Murray Chass, this past Sunday:

    “Did you ever see [Jack Morris] pitch, or do you base your view on numbers?” I asked. “A number did not pitch a shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris did.”

    The e-mailer said he had seen him pitch, and he saw that game. “So?” he added. “Don Larsen’s not in the HOF.”

    Is that the best the anti-Morris forces can do? Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame?

    Let’s see. Morris had a career record 254-186, Larsen 81-91. Morris pitched 175 complete games and 3,824 innings, Larsen 44 and 1,548. Morris struck out 2,478, Larsen 847.

    Stick around for Morris’s lament about how newfangled stats like “e.r.a.” have messed up the game!

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