Mediocre science meets deplorable journalism

You may have heard the latest news about certain frozen meals, e.g., Lean Cuisine, and fast food restaurant meals having many more calories than advertised (of course, some have less to, but that's gotten much less attention).  Here's the press release.  I first learned about this story watching ABC news on Friday night (can't find the video) in a story in which they hyped the fact about particular meals having 20-30% more calories than labeled.  The take-home seemed to be, watch out for these particular products.  Only at the end of the report do them mention that these findings were from a single sample of the product.  Wow!  How could this even make it as peer-reviewed science?  Answer is in the press release– the investigators were interested in the accuracy or calorie labels for overall product lines, e.g., all Lean Cuisine meals, or Wendy's Value meals, not particular items.  From this perspective, it is reasonable to say that Lean Cuisine under-estimated calories by XX% on average.  Still think it would have been a good idea to multiple samples of the same item, but given what they were concluding, this was reasonable.  Count on a brain-less press to run with this and give advice on each item based on single samples.  That ought to fail a middle-school science project.  Yet there it was on the national news.  Sad. 

The point of terrorism is terror

Great intro to Fareed Zakaria's column in the Post today.

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airlineron Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, "I'd rather overreact than underreact." This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well.

This undending obsession with the underwear bomber is, in fact, giving the terrorists just the kind of victory they are hoping for without actually harming a single American.  He goes on to make a point I've seen some other places, too, that the nature of this attack actually shows the relative weakness of Al Qaeda.  Yet, by over-reacting, we are giving them the strategic victory that they are increasingly unable to pull-off tactically.  We should stop.

Harry Reid’s “gaffe”

What's depressing about the conservative "outrage" over Harry Reid's "racism" is the predictability of the mass media's obsession with it.  The idea that Reid is a closet racist or that his words are anything less than true, is simply absurd. His sole error was using the term "negro" certainly not the other "n" word, but neither does it automatically make one a racist.  Mark Kleiman brilliantly deconstructs the whole mess:

But what, exactly?  Other than using an old-fashioned word to refer to
African-Americans (a word which was the standard word for about the
first half of Reid’s life), what did Reid do wrong?*

It is the case that Obama is light-skinned and that he is a native
speaker of American English, though he can and does, on occasion, use
Ebonic cadences for rhetorical effect.

And it is the case that both his skin tone (and the ancestry it
reflects) and his command of the common dialect are among his political
assets.   If he had looked, or sounded, like Jesse Jackson, he wouldn’t
be President.  A darker hue and a more Ebonic speech pattern would
certainly have cost him some votes among white Anglos, Latinos, and
Asians, and almost certainly cost him some black votes as well.  (The
internalization of racism in the African-American community is a
well-known phenomenon.)

To quote Kevin Drum, "Are we seriously at the point where we have to rely on George Will (!) to talk sense into the conservative movement?"

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