Thursday, February 22, 2007

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Eve Predictions

Color me optimistic...

Predictions based on average polling results (difference), party ID/ Prez vote, polling trends, & gut feel.

TN Corker (Rep Retention)

Corker 51%, Ford 43.6%
+ Republican Party ID state
+ Bush
+ Corker trend

RI Whitehouse (Dem pick up)

Whitehouse 48.7%, Chafee 43.3%
+ Democrat Party ID state
+ Kerry
+ Chafee trend

PA Casey (Dem pick up)

Casey 52.3%, Santorum 40.8%
+ Democrat Party ID state
+ Kerry
+ Santorum trend

OH Brown (Dem pick up)

Brown 51%, DeWine 43.3%
+ Republican Party ID state
+ Bush
+ DeWine trend

NJ Menendez (Dem retention)

Menendez 47.8%, Kean 41.7%
+ Democrat Party ID state
+ Kerry
- no apparent trend

MT Burns (Rep Retention)

Tester 48.5%, Burns 45.5%
+ Republican Party ID state
+ Bush
+ Burns

MO Talent (Rep Retention)

Talent 46%, McCaskill 48%
- Even Party ID state
+ Bush
- no apparent trend

MD Steele (Rep pick up)

Cardin, 48.3%, Steele 44.8%
+ Democrat Party ID state
+ Kerry
+ Steele (significant upward trend)

VA Allen (Rep Retention)

Allen 46.3%, Webb 46.3%
+ Republican Party ID state
+ Bush
- no apparent trend


Republicans take 80% of 22 leaning seats (-5)
Dems take 90% of 13 leaning seats (-1)
Dems take 75% of toss ups (+9)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lancet Researchers Unresponsive...

While I hesitate to read anything into it, I have yet to recieve a response to my request of the Lancet researchers that they provide me with the underlying statistical paper that backs the one recently published in Lancet. In order to conduct any form of replication, at minimum I'll have to see the models they estimated. But no word yet. Will update if anything changes.

Lancet Study Bombshell

Steven Moore explodes the Lancet Study in the WSJ. Not only are their cluster points small (leading to the vulnerability I mentioned earlier regarding the impact of outlier clusters), but apparently the authors collected no demographic data on their respondents. This is unbelievable. I have to say, it never even occurred to me that they wouldn't have collected demographic data on their respondents. It's like questioning whether a mathematictian remembered to carry the one in calculating an addition problem. It is so basic and fundamental that you simply presume it is there. If someone is going to conduct a study based on a survey, they have to collect demographic data on their respondents. They have to. This isn't debatable. It isn't some methodological controversy among survey researchers. Every survey researcher collects demographic data on their sample. Besides the fact it is often a subject of interest, it is absolutely necessary in order to externally validate a sample. If your sample doesn't reflect population statitiscs (say, it over-samples women for some reason) then you correct and report accordingly. If we ask the Lancet authors, "So, what level of confidence do you have that your sample reflects the true population" honest answer would have to be, "we have absolutely no idea." I can't understate how huge this is. There is no way to externally validate their sample without demographic data. For all we know, their respondents may all be 20 year old Sunni males....or 40 year old Shiite females...and they can't tell us otherwise because they didn't collect the data! This is amazing. Either these guys don't know what they're doing...or they are being duplicitous (i.e. their sample isn't representative and the demographics would prove it). I would normally hesitate to introduce the possibility of dishonesty (most often errors are the consequence of shoddy methods or lazy applications)...but this 'oversight' shines like the sun.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mortality Rates in Iraq Pre-Invasion

In this excellent review of the previous IDS by these same researchers, Kaplan raises the issue of the pre-invasion mortality rate employed in the study. The researchers use that same mortality rate in the current study. Read the whole critique...because most of this criticisms are very much applicable to the current study.

The study, though, does have a fundamental flaw that has nothing to do with the limits imposed by wartime—and this flaw suggests that, within the study's wide range of possible casualty estimates, the real number tends more toward the lower end of the scale. In order to gauge the risk of death brought on by the war, the researchers first had to measure the risk of death in Iraq before the war. Based on their survey of how many people in the sampled households died before the war, they calculated that the mortality rate in prewar Iraq was 5 deaths per 1,000 people per year. The mortality rate after the war started—not including Fallujah—was 7.9 deaths per 1,000 people per year. In short, the risk of death in Iraq since the war is 58 percent higher (7.9 divided by 5 = 1.58) than it was before the war.

But there are two problems with this calculation. First, Daponte (who has studied Iraqi population figures for many years) questions the finding that prewar mortality was 5 deaths per 1,000. According to quite comprehensive data collected by the United Nations, Iraq's mortality rate from 1980-85 was 8.1 per 1,000. From 1985-90, the years leading up to the 1991 Gulf War, the rate declined to 6.8 per 1,000. After '91, the numbers are murkier, but clearly they went up. Whatever they were in 2002, they were almost certainly higher than 5 per 1,000. In other words, the wartime mortality rate—if it is 7.9 per 1,000—probably does not exceed the peacetime rate by as much as the Johns Hopkins team assumes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cross-National Mortality Rates

Can be found here.

As Ian notes on the Corner, even taking into account the differential in the age of populations (developed countries tend to have older populations and hence inflated mortality rates), the rate reported in the Iraq Death Study (henceforth IDS) isn't quite the unique international disaster its authors would have us believe. And I find it interesting that the mortality rate the Fact Book reports for Iraq in 2006 isn't all that distinct from the baseline reported in the IDS for the pre-invasion. Hmmmmm.

Welcome Corner Readers!

And thanks, again, to John Pod for the link! Feel free to peruse around and make yourself at home. This isn't the most active of blogs, but I try to make up for the lack of quality by posting veerrrry infrequently.

New Report on Deaths in Iraq

A new study is out purporting to show that over 600,000 Iraqis have died as a consequence of the U.S-lead war in Iraq. John Podhoretz of National Review asked me to compile into a set of questions some of the issues I raised about the study with him, and I do so below.

You can read the study here.

I should note that, while this isn't my first time around a random sample, a survey instrument, or a log-linear regression model, I do not study mortality rates and would defer to the expertise of scholars in the field (i.e. medical research) who have experience with these models. However, I do have some questions from a semi-lay perspective.

1. The survey reports a pre-invasion crude mortality rate of 5.5 deaths per year out of 1000 persons in the population (based on [edit: 82, not 2] 2 pre-invasion deaths reported in their sample). Is this consistent with death rates in countries similar in development to Iraq?

2. A one year period prior to the invasion was chosen for the pre-invasion period comparison baseline in the study. Why was this interval chosen? Note that this is a period with a coalition enforced no-fly zone in effect. Would a different interval have produced a different mortality rate? For example, what about one that included post-Gulf War reprisals? This is very significant. The pre-invasion mortality rate is integral to calculating the # of deaths attributable to the war in Iraq. Higher pre-invasion mortality rate, fewer deaths attributed to the war. And note, they get their estimate of the pre-invasion mortality rate *from* their sample. So a household is asked about deaths from each of the periods. They may be underestimating the deaths in the earliest period simply because it was so long ago.

3. Why are the confidence intervals around their estimates so large? It sends up a pretty big red flag. While sensitivity checks were done according to the authors, I wonder whether outlier clusters might be driving the inflated death totals. Their model assumes that the "variation in mortality rates across clusters is proportional to the average mortality rate." Perhaps non-constant error variance in their data may account for the inflated confidence intervals they estimate?

4. I think there is a fundamental question as to whether this baseline-comparison model is appropriate for assessing the impact of the war on the number of deaths in Iraq. It is very sensitive to the baseline selected as well as the variance in deaths across clusters. While the authors acknowledge several possible sources of systematic bias in their sample (i.e. the possibility of over-sampling higher-mortality clusters as a result of population migration), I don't think they appreciate just how much of an effect that could have on their estimates. Their method does not and cannot account for the essential non-randomness of warfare. Coalition forces do not drop bombs randomly. Insurgents do not plant IED's or car-bombs randomly. As such their sample may be severely biased by the fact that individuals living in Iraq make rational decisions to move away from hot-spots when able to do so. Less people in the household means a higher mortality rate.

5. Why was no effort made to distinguish combatants from non-combatants? I understand that there is concern for risk to the interviewers (as stated in the article), but this is pretty important. The authors argue that this is the "this the deadliest international conflict of the 21st century" and that they have urged investigation into the "excess" mortality rate in Iraq. But what if a large percentage of that 'excess' is, in fact, coalition forces killing insurgents? From a policy perspective, there doesn't seem to be much logic in treating the death of an innocent child from an IED the same as the death of the terrorist planting the IED at the hands of coalition forces...yet that is exactly what the study does. Note the study acknowledges that "Across Iraq, deaths and injuries from violent causes were concentrated in adolescent to middle age men." The exact population from which combatants are drawn.

UPDATE: IUD vs. IED spelling error corrected. Thanks to Craig for noting. The universe of possible jokes as a consequence of that error I leave to the imagination of the reader. ;)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why Alan Wolfe Can't Write About Conservatives Part 1

Alan Wolfe is out to tell us Why Conservatives Can't Govern. OK. Bring it on, Alan.

> **************
> Why Conservatives Can't Govern
> By Alan Wolfe, Washington Monthly. Posted July 6, 2006.

I hope Alan manages to handle conservatives better than he did Catholics (Wolfe suggested Catholics worship the statutes of saints).

FYI, for a good take down of Wolfe and his attacks on conservatism you can see this Goldberg column circa 1999 (yes, Mr. Wolfe hasn't exactly come new to the 'conservatism bad' crowd)

> Bush's presidency and Congress are imploding, not despite
> their conservatism, but because of it.
> Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes
> what George W.
> Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his
> administration. But from just about everyone else, on the
> right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been
> rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American
> history, will soon find itself in the final four.

Argumentum ad populum. Worse, it is completely unsubstantiated. Even worse, it isn't even particularly plausible. There are a lot of folks on the Left and on the Right who would agree this has been a bad administration, but the above hyperbole is too much to take. We might skip over it if we could agree that most on both sides think the administration is bad (note that the above would still be hyperbole even if). But it isn't true. Most on the Right think the Bush administration has been a success. It is a vocal minority on the Right who argue otherwise. And even on the Left there isn't unanimity this has been one of the worst American presidencies.

And even more, they all DISAGREE on what the problem with the administration is. There is general agreement on the Right that the Bush administration has been too spend-happy and too quick to employ government programs on the domestic side of politics. The Right, for the most part, supports the War against Terror. There are critics on the Right who think that the Bush administration has been so spend-happy it isn't conservative. There are those on the Right who think he is spend-happy and a nutty neocon (or the lap dog of nutty neocons) for involving us in the War in Iraq. For the Left, it is all Iraq, all the time. To the extent the Left believes the Bush administration has been a 'failure' on the domestic side is because of *conservative* domestic policy. The Left isn't mad at Bush because he's overfunding education and prescription drugs. That's what the Right is mad at him for. So, yes, there are alot of folks on both sides of the political spectrum that have problems with Bush. But that's a far cry from the united opposition and *agreement* in opposition that Wolfe portrays.

So, try again, Mr. Wolfe.

> Even those
> who appeal to history's ultimate judgment halfheartedly
> acknowledge as much. One seeks tomorrow's vindication only in
> the context of today's dismal performance.

Mr. Wolfe has been spending too much time in the faculty lounge.

> About the only failure more pronounced than the president's
> has been the graft-filled plunder of GOP lawmakers -- at
> least according to opinion polls,

Wolfe knows better than this. Tsk. Tsk. To see a sociologist misusing opinion polling thusly. Sad. He is imposing his own criticism of GOP lawmakers on an opinion poll that doesn't even ask about that criticism. It is a mere approval/disapproval number. We don't know why folks disapprove (hello gas prices!). And Wolfe provides no polling to substantiate his view.

> which in May gave the
> GOP-controlled Congress favorability ratings in the low 20s,

As Mr. Wolfe should well know, congressional favorability ratings are always low. And are mostly irrelevant.

> about 10 points lower than the president's. This does not
> necessarily translate into electoral Armageddon;

It never has. Not even when Democrats controlled Congress.

> redistricting and other incumbency-protection devices help
> protect against that.

This is a decidedly overblown factor. As I argue here.

Open seats do tend to be more vulnerable, but safe seats for Republican incumbents would be safe seats for any Republican...and likewise for Democrats. And, again, note the conflation of 'gerrymandering' and 'more safe seats' inherent to Wolfe's reference to redistricting. You can't gerrymander more seats and make seats safer. You can gerrymander more seats and make those seats more vulnerable (ask Tom Delay regarding this factor)...or you can do the opposite (less seats...safer). The effect of a gerrymander to create more seats (i.e. a majority) is to put MORE not less seats in play. In which case the gerrymander most certainly would *not* protect Congress from negative public opinion. It would make it more vulnerable to exactly that.

The truth is that the opinion poll (a generic approval rating for the institution of Congress) has almost nothing to do with voting in a district for a particular candidate for Congress. Nor is there any good reason to expect it to.

> But even if many commentators think
> that Republicans may retain control over Congress, very few
> think they should.

Again with the false argumentum ad populum.

> Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of
> conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming
> right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing
> convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that
> under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as
> conservatives prescribe, but has grown.

Note here the conflation of "conservative" and "Republican." Despite the conceit of the black-and-white Left, this is hardly the case. And, note, according to Wolfe, he didn't even cite a conservative in his example! He cited a libertarian (though I'm not sure he's got that right, either).

> Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have
> become -- well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining
> power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed
> them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the
> care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat
> Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and
> Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq.

Yes, there's a lot of navel gazing going on on the Right side of the political spectrum. This happens all the time. It happens on the Left as well. It is worst when in power (having policy to wrangle over)...but it is omnipresent. Noting that conservatives disagree with each other on a variety of issues does not IN ANY WAY substantiate Wolfe's claim about conservatism. We're supposed to be hearing how everyone is down on Bush as the worst president ever (funny, he hasn't cited anyone who has said that). We're supposed to be hearing about how this is the fault of conservatism itself. Still waiting.

>Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative >president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable >genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all >these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in >Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The >ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have >always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

The above is absolutely false. Conservatives such as Bartlett, Buchanan, Sam Francis, and others argued that Bush ISN'T conservative. It isn't a conservative president they are repudiating. It isn't a conservative Congress they are repudiating. Again, Wolfe conflates the Republican party identifier with 'conservative.' As Goldberg and other conservatives have noted, it is *Republicans* who have the White House and have a majority in Congress. Not conservatives.

And I should also note again that conservatives such as Fred Barnes, John Podhertz, and William Kristol most decidedly are not arguing that Bush has a failed presidency, they are not arguing that conservatives should repudiate Bush because his failed presidency shouldn't sully conservatism.

More Wolfe:

>Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other >of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the >president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls.

Note, this is little more than an ad hominem attack on conservative pundits. You sly conservative pundits you: you lauded Bush as a great conservative when he was popular...but now you're dumping him since his poll numbers have tanked. You unprincipled heathens!

But, further note, this is false ALL THE WAY AROUND. Pat Buchanan didn't wait until Bush's poll numbers tanked to come out against the Iraq war. And Bill Kristol continues to laudit Bush for the same policies he lauded Bush for when his poll numbers were high. Where are these hypocritical and shallow conservative pundits that Wolfe is talking about? Other than in his fevered imagination, of course...

To be continued... D.GOOCH

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns: A short review

I thought this was a really good movie. The decision to embrace the past movies (well...1 & 2 anyway) rather than try to rewrite the origin story was a great decision. The effects were awesome, and the guy they got to play Superman did a bang-up job. Just enough Christopher Reeves to draw you in. Thank God Nick Cage got the Ghostrider gig instead. ! Superman is an everyman...and Nick Cage is no everyman.

Didn't like:

1) Lois hooking up with another dude. It isn't so much that she moved on that bothers me as it is that she DIDN'T move on. She's been stringing Richard (James Mardsen, a.k.a. Cyclops) along for 5 years...despite the fact her kid believes Richard is his father. This Richard is a *good* guy. He's a committed family man, brave, devoted to Lois and the son, not to mention a good provider. What's Lois's problem? Oh yeah, she's still pining after Super-Jerk who took off for 5 years with nary a word. Superman as deadbeat dad and Lois as unfaithful tart just don't go over well for me.

2) It isn't so much as a thing to dislike as it is a nit: Luthor's master plan is to create a whole new continent that he'll be the ruler of...forcing the world's nations to buy real estate in Lexland (especially given that North & South America will be underwater as a result). This is a nod to Luthor's original diaboloical scheme in Superman I, where he was going to send half of California into the ocean (whereupon his worthless desert real estate would become priceless beach front property). My problem is that the first scheme actually made some sense, whereas the Superman Returns plot...just doesn't. Uh, did you get a load of the 'real-estate' that Lex created? It is as much a worthless barren wasteland as the desert property he bought in the first movie. We've already got a huge, unpopulated continent without a whole bunch of animal or plant life. It's called Antartica. Without the Genesis device from Star Trek II, it's hard to see how his barren Kryptonian rock is going to suddenly become profitable. And let's not forget, it isn't even a matter of plant and animal life. Property on the coasts are valuable, not just because it has beautiful scenery, but because of the civilization that has built up around it. The civilization that Lex plans to put 50 feet under the ocean. There are plenty of desert islands with fruit, animals, and beautiful scenery. No one owns those islands because that's all they've got. You have to develop it to make it worth something. It's hard to see how Lex would be around to enjoy the fruits of Lexland : The New Frontier...crystals or no crystals.