Quick hits (part I)

1) Lee Drutman makes a compelling case that we should make more predictions.

Most scholars and commentators these days are overly cautious about venturing predictions. It’s understandable: After so many got so much wrong in 2016, the natural response is to step back and “get out of the prediction business.”

This is too bad. If anything, we should make more predictions — if so many once-reliable theories crumbled in 2016, there’s all the more need to come up with new ones. And making predictions is the best way to test our theories and assumptions, and therefore an excellent way to learn. Yes, it means sticking your neck out and maybe being wrong. The safest way to always be right is to never make any predictions. But without venturing testable hypotheses about the future, it’s harder to distinguish rival theories.

Like it or not, the demand for predictions exists. Our minds are wired to hate uncertainty, to know the next turn in the story. Predictions fill a deep need.

Without scholars and commentators making informed predictions in the accountable spirit of the scientific method, the market is left to those who care less whether they are right — they just want to be interesting. This reduces the quality of predictions — more vague and wild predictions, fewer ones resting on specified theories. The result: We understand less about the world…

Now, you might say: Why make predictions when we can just wait for the outcome, and thenmake a post-hoc judgment call? But once we know the outcome, post-hoc rationalization sets in. Hindsight is always 20/20 (and not just in 2020).

If you have a new theory, there’s only one way to know whether it might be any good: make predictions and see how well you do.

Drutman predicts Beto.

Here’s my theory, informed by what we’ve seen from recent elections: The candidate who is best able to get by on “authenticity” and charisma and can keep from getting mired in policy specifics has the best chance of winning. The current era of social media- and internet-driven small-donor financing has made politics more unmediated, more direct-to-voter than ever.

I don’t have much of a theory, but to the extent I do, I’ll predict Kamala.  I think the fact that she is a Black woman is a huge plus in an identity-politics on the left age and I think she has the skills to do really well in debates, which will help set her apart from a large field.  So, there you go.

2) Speaking of identity politics, Jesse Singal is really good on this:

Identity politics is really just any instance of a group advocating for its own interests, often by arguing it hasn’t been treated fairly or is being screwed over by some other group or some bigger force. The civil rights and women’s suffrage movements were instances of effective identity politics.

‘Identitarianism’ is a bit better. In poking around online, I came across the blog of Matt Drabek, a philosopher and the author of the very interesting-looking Classify and Label: The Unintended Marginalization of Social Groups. Drabek argues against identitarianism on the left, from the left, laying out the identity politics/identitarianism distinction as follows in a post from last June:

-‘Identity politics’ picks out any politics aimed at advancing the interests of a discernible identity group or groups.

-‘Identitarianism’ picks out any politics or movement that reduces political issues entirely or almost entirely to issues of identity.

That seems about right to me. And it captures what feels like a burgeoning tendency in certain left-of-center spaces, particularly elite ones. Since it has certain characteristics unique to it and not held by right-wing forms of identitarianism, let’s call it left-wing identitarianism, or LWI, for short. This is somewhat blunt phrasing, since there are far-left socialist identitarians and center-left Hillary-Clinton-supporting identitarians, but it gets the point across well enough.

LWI has certain defining features that pop up endlessly. One is that it makes strong causal claims about the connection between race and behavior or belief…

This is a really good example of the miles-wide gap between how traditional progressivism and LWI handle the question of race and crime.

Traditional progressivism: If there’s a link between race and crime, it isn’t about race itself — being one race or another, doesn’t, on its own, cause someone to be more criminal via properties essential to that racial group. Rather, the race-crime link is mediated by all sorts of other variables, like poverty and lack of access to opportunity.

Left-wing identitarianism: There is a causal link between race and crime when it comes to white crime, because of the essential qualities of whiteness.

In fact, LWI has a tendency to reduce all sorts of complicated stuff to whether or not the person doing that stuff is a member of majority or minority groups. Among the most ardent left-wing identitarians, the first step toward explaining anything is identity groups.

3) I do plan on reading this big NYT magazine feature on Rupert Murdoch.  Everybody tells me I should.

4) My wife thinks I’m too old for this.  I disagree.

5) I subscribed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1998-99.  It was a great paper.  So sad to see it’s dramatic decline, as with so many high-quality local newspapers.

6) Everybody also said this Caitlyn Flanagan piece on the college admissions scandal is a must-read. It’s really good, but I didn’t think quite up to the hype.  But, yes, read it.

These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children. The changed admissions landscape at the elite colleges is the aspect of American life that doesn’t feel right to them; it’s the lost thing, the arcadia that disappeared so slowly they didn’t even realize it was happening until it was gone. They can’t believe it—they truly can’t believe it—when they realize that even the colleges they had assumed would be their child’s back-up, emergency plan probably won’t accept them. They pay thousands and thousands of dollars for untimed testing and private counselors; they scour lists of board members at colleges, looking for any possible connections; they pay for enhancing summer programs that only underscore their children’s privilege. And—as poor whites did in the years leading up to 2016—they complain about it endlessly. At every parent coffee, silent auction, dinner party, Clippers game, book club, and wine tasting, someone is bitching about admissions. And some of these parents, it turns out, haven’t just been bitching; some of them decided to go MAGA.

Also, I have seen so many non-elite state-school graduates go on to great things that the obsession with elite undergraduate institutions grows ever more tiresome to me.

7) There’s just so much horror committed by our government in the name of “protecting our borders” that it’s hard to keep up.  And it is a moral stain on our country.  Especially those responsible.

8) Good stuff in Wired on they physics and reality of free-throw shooting.  I love that the best research on this is from an NC State professor (see, who needs the Ivies).

9) And as long as we’re talking basketball… Zion has led me to enjoy college basketball more than I have in many years.  I hate that I only got one season of him and that I’ll never see him in a Duke jersey again.  But this Ringer article on how the whole one-and-done thing has been Coach K’s downfall is terrific.

10) And to stick with a theme, Notre Dame women’s college basketball coach will not be hiring any men again.  Ever.

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw has been on the Final Four stage nine times in her career. She has answered hundreds of questions about her team, about her rivalry with Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, about the state of women’s basketball. But her news conference on Thursday was different. It was passionate, and it was personal.

Muffet McGraw has had enough.

Enough of the declining percentage of women coaching women’s basketball teams. Enough of the limited female representation in Congress. Enough of confining gender roles. Enough of the gender pay gap.

“Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one,” McGraw said, her voice rising in response to a question about saying in a recent ThinkProgress article that she would not hire another man for her coaching staff.

11) This seems like a really important piece of social science to me.  Not only can we p-hack more publishable results, we can null-hack them.  And, of course, any “hacking” of results is not good.  But, for now, rewarded.

Replication and transparency are increasingly important in bolstering the credibility of political science research, yet open science tools are typically designed for experiments. For observational studies, current replication practice suffers from an important pathology: just as researchers can often “p-hack” their way to initial findings, it is often possible to “null hack” findings away through specification and case search. We propose an observational open science framework that consists of extending the original time series, independent data collection, pre-registration, multiple simultaneous replications, and collaborators with mixed incentives. We apply the approach to three studies on “irrelevant” events and voting behavior. Each study replicates well in some areas and poorly in others. Had we sought to debunk any of the three with ex post specification search, we could have done so. However, our approach required us to see the full, complicated picture. We conclude with suggestions for future refinements to our approach.

12) This Vox piece on the scientific value of recovering 50-year astronaut poop on the moon was fascinating.  I also loved that my 13-year old son had already read it when I brought up the subject to him.

13) A female teacher lost her job over a topless selfie that she shared with a male co-worker she had been dating (and, alas, somehow made it’s way into the phone of a student).  She is suing based on the gender discrimination of toplessness.  How about the fact that you should not be fired because sexual photos of you exist.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Quick hits (part I)

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    If democracy is about individual human beings, then identity politics is anti-democratic.
    MLK said that we should be known not by our skin color (or any other group identification) but by our character. Our individual character.
    The problem we have now is that there don’t seem to be any solidly common values on which our society should be based. The values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are being sorely tested today. That lack of agreement is what is causing the political divide we see and the identity groups to form.
    One step back would be to reinstate civics in our public schools so that students are aware of our national origins and what the principles by which our government was formed mean in every day life and as a voter.
    Being a social studies teacher in today’s world is a tough job, sometimes even a dangerous one.

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