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Picking on Gregg Easterbrook

I don’t want to make a habit of this, but . . . I was curious what Easterbrook would write as a follow-up to his recent Huntsman puff, and here’s what he came up with:

Tired of cookie-cutter political contests between hauntingly similar candidates? Then you’re going to like the upcoming race for one of the Senate seats in the late Ted Kennedy’s haunting grounds. Elizabeth Warren, best known for creating and fighting for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is hoping to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown. They’re both qualified, but they couldn’t be more different — personally or politically.

Um, no.

1. It seems a bit of a stretch to say the two candidates “couldn’t be more different personally.” Brown is a 52-year-old married white lawyer with two children. Warren is a 62-year-old married white lawyer with three children. According to Wikipedia, they both had middle-class backgrounds, Brown in Massachusetts and Warren in Oklahoma, and they suffered some personal and financial challenges during their childhood. Brown and Warren may very well have strikingly different personalities but Easterbrook presents no evidence for that claim.

2. It’s even more difficult to plausibly claim that Warren and Brown “couldn’t be more different politically.” Yes, Warren is a liberal Democrat, but Brown is not a conservative Republican. He’s a moderate, and is as liberal as a Republican as you’ll see in the contemporary U.S. Senate.

What’s the evidence that Scott Brown is moderate, not conservative? See here (from Jan 2010) and here (May 2010). There aren’t a lot of moderate Republicans in Congress, but Brown is one of them. See here for details from Boris Shor.

A recommendation

In all seriousness, I think Reuters should fire Easterbook and replace him with Boris Shor. Boris is a professor at the University of Chicago who did the research predicting that Scott Brown would be a political moderate in the Senate. This was a prediction that Boris made publicly, in advance of Brown’s special election. Boris is a political scientist, he knows a lot about politics, he’s a serious guy with interesting ideas. Unless Reuters is afraid of losing their football-fan readership, I think they should invite Boris to write a column for them.

If Reuters really doesn’t want to lose Easterbrook, they could give him a lateral move to their “Life & Culture” section.

P.S. Amazingly enough, Easterbrook’s column was reposted at the Washington Monthly website. I thought the Washington Monthly had better taste than that!


  1. Boris Shor says:

    Wow. Thanks. Problem is I’d only publish an oped every month or two; ask me to write a column every week and I’d start sounding like Easterbrook… It’s YOU who should have a column, because you have the chops to write high quality output consistently.

  2. Sebastian says:

    :-) you really are the pitbull of statistical blogging (and I mean this as a compliment) – once you get hold of someone you don’t let lose. The bruised Drs. Myhrvold, Levitt, Wegeman, Yoo etc. would be able to tell Easterbrook that chances are that you’ll make it a habit.
    I think it’s both a great public service and highly entertaining, so please don’t stop.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    One difference: I don’t think Ms. Warren has ever posed nude for a magazine.

  4. noahpoah says:

    Easterbrook on Life & Culture: “Tired of the same-old desserts and hauntingly similar side dishes at Thanksgiving? Candied yams, best known for mounds of toasted marshmallow topping, are hoping to challenge incumbent oatmeal-cookie-topped sweet potatoes. They both straddle the fine line between dessert and side dish, but they couldn’t be more different – calorically or in terms of mouth-feel. And at this point in the menu cycle, apple cobbler is just as vulnerable as black licorice was in 1977, perhaps even more so.”

  5. Gabe says:

    He’s coasting on fumes right now, trading on his former name.

  6. zbicyclist says:

    Scientific American takes Easterbrook to task on physics:

    So, Andrew, it’s not just you.

    “Several years ago, Carl Zimmer took him to task for some nonsensical statements about string theory and other dimensions. Last week, Easterbrook ventured again into cosmology, on the web site od The Atlantic. Unfortunately his piece contains a number of bizarre or outright wrong statements. I don’t mean this blog to engage in character assassination, and certainly not of Easterbrook, as I like the guy, but I would just like to correct his article for the record.”

    • Andrew says:

      Perhaps the key line in that quote is “I like the guy.” I don’t know Easterbrook personally and so can feel free to mock, but if he is indeed a likable guy, perhaps that could be part f the explanation for his continued journalistic employment.

  7. Aaron says:

    Here is some additional recent hatin’ on Easterbrook. This one is less for factual inaccuracies as for objectionable perspective, but perhaps still of interest:

  8. DougJ says:

    Make this a habit!

  9. […] Andrew Gelman has another solid take down of Gregg Easterbook’s political column, but says “I don’t want to make a habit of this”. He also notes, sadly, that the Washington Monthly is reposting all of Easterbrook’s columng (Easterbrook has some affiliation with Washington Monthly). […]

  10. Rusty says:

    Now, now, I don’t think Reuters wins over any football fans with Easterbrook. His football writing has approximately the same reputation as his political writing.

  11. Cervantes says:

    I don’t want to make a habit of this

    Whyever not, Gelman? If not you, then who?

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence but I think I can make a larger contribution to global well-being by working on Stan. This blog is good for letting off steam, though. I just wish the right people would read this and stop paying Easterbrook to write political columns!

  12. Peter Flom says:

    Clearly, Warren and Brown COULD be MORE different. But is Brown really a moderate? ProgressivePunch gives him a “lifetime progressive score” of 27.91 and a rank of 56 in the Senate. This is a fair bit less progressive than Snow or Collins, the only two Republican senators who are more progressive (they get scores of 36.56 and 35.55, respectively, while the least progressive Democrat gets 54.28 (that’s Ben Nelson) and the 2nd least progressive Democrat (Baucus) gets 75.59

    VoteView also ranks Brown as less moderate than Snowe or Collins. On their “first dimension” (which accounts for a huge proportion of the variance) Snowe gets 0.085, Collins 0.098 and Brown 0.180 and Specter (while a Republican) got 0.070, while Ben Nelson got 0.027. (VoteView is based on the 111th Senate).

    Of course, what’s the definition of “moderate”?

  13. Tom says:

    Simon Jackman also provides evidence that Brown is a moderate. Go to his blog ( and pull up his ideal point estimates for the 112th Congress. He uses an interesting analysis technique.

  14. qkslvrwolf says:

    What is the standard you’re using for “moderate”? Is it relative to his contemporary republican colleagues, or is this on a broader scale? Because as far as I can tell, as one of his constituents, he’s only moderate in comparison to the current crop of “let’s burn down american and play the fiddle so we can actually get elected” modern colleagues. In comparison to even, say, Reagan era conservatives, he seems pretty hard core.

    But I’m young. This is a case where I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

  15. […] is the dumbest thing I’ve seen since . . . ummm, I dunno, how bout this? It actually gets worse because Easterbrook then invokes game theory. What next? Catastrophe […]

  16. […] is the dumbest thing I’ve seen since . . . ummm, I dunno, how bout this? It actually gets worse because Easterbrook then invokes game theory. What next? Catastrophe […]

  17. […] those numbers to be meant literally. Similarly, he presumably didn’t really mean it when he wrote that Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren “couldn’t be more different — personally or […]