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17 state attorney generals, 100 congressmembers, and the Association for Psychological Science walk into a bar

I don’t have much to add to all that’s been said about this horrible story.

The statistics errors involved are pretty bad—actually commonplace in published scientific articles, but mistakes that seem recondite and technical in a paper about ESP, say, or beauty and sex ratio, become much clearer when the topic is something familiar such as voting. Rejecting an empty null hypothesis is often an empty exercise—but it’s obviously empty when the hypothesis is that votes at different times are random samples from a common population. This sort of thing might get you published in PNAS and featured in Freakonomics and NPR but it has no place in serious decision making.

In any case, statistics is hard, even if you’re not an oncologist, so you can’t blame people—even Williams College math professors or former program directors at Harvard—for getting things wrong. I’d like to blame these people for being so clueless as to not realize how clueless they are, but perhaps years of being deferred to by business clients and fawning students has made them overestimate their competence.

I can, however, blame the attorney generals of 17 states, and the 100+ members of the U.S. Congress, for signing on to this document—after it had been ridiculed in every corner of the internet. To sign on to something when you know it’s wrong—that’s the kind of behavior we expect from Association for Psychological Science, not from the political leaders of the greatest country on earth.

Back when the Soviet scientific establishment was extolling Lysenko and the Soviet political establishment was following Stalin’s dictates, at least they had the excuse that their lives and livelihoods were at stake. I don’t think this is the case for tenured psychology professors or those 17 state attorney generals and 100 congressmembers. Even if they get primaried, I’m sure they can get good jobs as lawyers or lobbyists or whatever. No, they’re just endorsing something they know is wrong because politics. As a political scientist, I can try to understand this. But I don’t have to like it.

P.S. I can’t bring myself to say “attorneys general,” any more than I can bring myself to say “whom.” It’s a ticket to Baaaath kind of thing.

P.P.S. But I disagree with Senator Chris Murphy who described the recent attempts to reverse the election as “the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our of country.” It’s not as serious as when all those southern states stopped letting black people vote, right? Also I disagree with former congressmember Joe Scarborough, who wrote that “a party that elevated Donald Trump from Manhattan’s class clown to the U.S. presidency no longer has any use for the likes of Kirk, Edmund Burke or William F. Buckley.” I don’t know about Kirk or Burke, but Buckley was a big supporter of Joe McCarthy, who had a lot in common with Trump. The recent post-election statistical clown show is far from the worst behavior seen in American electoral politics, but there’s something horrifying about it, in that it is outrageous and at the same time has been anticipated for months. Kind of like when you’re watching a glass slowly fall off the table but you can’t seem to get your hand there in time to catch it.

P.P.P.S. Yet another thing that’s going on here, I think, is the tradition in this country of celebrating lawyers and advocates who can vigorously argue a case in spite of the facts. Consider Robert Kardashian, Al Sharpton, etc. Senator Ted Cruz offered to argue that latest case in front of a court. Cruz has to know that the argument is b.s., but in this country, lawyers who argue cases that they know are wrong are not just tolerated but sometimes celebrated. I guess Cruz’s implicit case, which he could never say in public, is that that consultant’s argument is beyond stupid, but who cares because it serves the larger cause, which is his political party and his political movement. This is similar to the Soviet scientists supporting Lysenko on the implicit grounds that socialism is more important that scientific accuracy, or the Association for Psychological Science supporting the publication of bad science on the implicit grounds that the most important thing for psychology is NPR appearances, Ted talks, and the production of tenure-track jobs.

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95 Comments

  1. Anoneuoid says:

    Why was the statistics part even in there? The main argument was that the election rules must be determined by the legislature of each state, not executive. That may be true but it was dismissed due to states rights, ie states don’t have standing to challenge how other states choose their electors. A state can use a hot dog eating contest to determine its electoral college votes if it wants.

    I was really hoping to get a ruling on the stats but as Andrew pointed out yesterday the Supreme Court does not have a good track record there.

  2. Dale Lehman says:

    I, too, would have liked to see the Supreme Court weigh in on the statistics. But they focused on states’ rights and legal standing, and I suppose that is what we should expect (perhaps it is even appropriate). Andrew is now focusing on the public officials (mostly elected) who signed on, as well as the academics who conducted the analyses. We are all horrified by both/all. What is clear is that the strategy – that they are signing on to – is to throw everything at the wall to see if anything sticks. I find this the most disturbing aspect of the sordid affair. All that matter is winning. There is no truth, not facts, nothing but trying to win. We don’t even accept that in sports – how you play the game has always mattered (at least a little bit). This is a further degradation of public discourse, civility, toleration, discussion, understanding,…. When we don’t even have compunction about losing these things, then are seriously bad (there have always been bad actors, but the mainstream still valued such things – or perhaps I am wrong about that). But now it appears that the voters will not penalize any of the people who signed on to this travesty. Those in opposition will hold them responsible, but they would do that just for being on the opposite side, the other team. And the supporters will continue to support them for trying to win in any way they can.

    What I want to know is where is the pushback going to come from? I don’t want it to simply be that we have a new winning team. I wish (without any optimism) that we could see a reaction that renews or builds a belief that facts and argument matter, and that winning is something you put trust in, because of those things.

    • Anoneuoid says:

      We are all horrified by both/all. What is clear is that the strategy – that they are signing on to – is to throw everything at the wall to see if anything sticks. I find this the most disturbing aspect of the sordid affair. All that matter is winning. There is no truth, not facts, nothing but trying to win. We don’t even accept that in sports – how you play the game has always mattered (at least a little bit). This is a further degradation of public discourse, civility, toleration, discussion, understanding,…. When we don’t even have compunction about losing these things, then are seriously bad (there have always been bad actors, but the mainstream still valued such things – or perhaps I am wrong about that). But now it appears that the voters will not penalize any of the people who signed on to this travesty. Those in opposition will hold them responsible, but they would do that just for being on the opposite side, the other team. And the supporters will continue to support them for trying to win in any way they can.

      What I want to know is where is the pushback going to come from? I don’t want it to simply be that we have a new winning team. I wish (without any optimism) that we could see a reaction that renews or builds a belief that facts and argument matter, and that winning is something you put trust in, because of those things.

      Remove your first two sentences and I can’t tell if you are on republican side or democrat side. Meanwhile the debt and spying grows under both equally.

      The best we could have gotten out of this was NHST at center stage, on trial at the supreme court.

      • Andrew says:

        Anon:

        I disagree with your final sentence. I thin the best we could have gotten out of this was what we did get, which was the court dismissing the case. If these cases keep getting dismissed over and over again, it does provide some disincentive for lawyers to file future suits of this sort. That’s many many many times more important than the amusement factor of seeing a bunch of judges tussle with statistics.

        • Anoneuoid says:

          That’s many many many times more important than the amusement factor of seeing a bunch of judges tussle with statistics.

          If the supreme court had argued it is nonsense, that could become precedent and NHST-based arguments would be considered invalid within the legal system. That would trickle down to academia since their arguments couldn’t be used in lawsuits, etc.

          As those tens/hundreds of billions of $/year in resources are reallocated to science instead of NHST, we would then have a new golden age of rapid progress to the great benefit of all humanity. Similar to the rapid progress seend during the enlightenment after a thousand years of the best and brightest devoting their lives to scholasticism and religious topics.

          That was my (very optimistic) dream anyway.

      • Joshua says:

        In the current political context, for somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of the country, any form of feedback only serves to reinforce the partisan divide and get people to dig their bunkers deeper.

        IMO, trying to evaluate which SCOTUS response would have had the most positive effect is pretty useless.

        For example, I think there’s no form of disencentive thsr SCOTUS could deliver to Ted Cruise for any action he might take in supper if Trump. He went from calling Trump a pathological liar to offering to argue a worthless case before SCOTUS in his behalf. Think about that. The disencentive of arguing in support of a lousy case for a pathological liar in the most public forum possible wasn’t sufficient.

        • Jonathan (another one) says:

          I don’t think you’re giving Cruz enough credit here, unfortunately. His offer to try the case was essentially unserious since he was well aware that the case had no chance of being accepted. By offering to take the case, though, he could maintain his Trumpy cred while simultaneously not having to embarrass himself as a lawyer.

      • Anonymous says:

        Crackpot who bangs a tub: “NHST!” “NHST!”.

    • Andrew says:

      Dale:

      In the old days, the multiple choice college admissions tests would have a rule that you get 1 point for each right answer and -1/4 point for each wrong answer. This disincentivized guessing. If the grading instead follows the usual rule and gives one point for each right answer, period, then you should guess on any item you don’t know the answer to. But the legal system sometimes seems to follow the rule that if you make 100 arguments and 99 are wrong and the last one is, hey, maybe, who knows, there’s some ambiguity in the law, how clever, etc., then you can win the entire case. From a statistical standpoint, this seems wrong to me. First, the presence of the 99 obviously wrong arguments is clear evidence that the lawyers presenting the case are gaming the system by flooding the zone with decoys in the hope that their bomber will get through undetected. Second, from a hierarchical modeling perspective, those incredibly bad arguments provide evidence of the badness of other arguments presented by the same side.

      I agree with your point that people who present low quality arguments should be penalized, in the same sense that a test taker can lose points by attempting questions and writing wrong answers. In the legal setting it’s much worse, not just because of the potential consequences but also because the production of bad arguments wastes the resources of others in the court system and elsewhere (including us, discussing all this). Also, the lack of negative incentives against bad arguments provides, by a sort of suction process, a positive incentives for bad actors such as the attorney generals and congressmembers who know that they’re supporting a specious argument, as well as attracting bottom-feeders such as the former Harvard program director and the Williams College math professor who will produce stupid statistical arguments at request.

      • Dale Lehman says:

        Anoneuoid – if it is possible to not know which side I am on, that would be a virtue. I’m tired of it being about sides. It is long overdue that it be about facts, argument, and discussion.

        Andrew – I don’t see the legal system they way you have described. Proceedings I have been involved in do take into account the myriad arguments. Credibility can be ruined by a poor argument – so 99 obviously wrong arguments can undermine one that is not obviously wrong. I would have like the Supreme Court to have shown this, but they would have had to accepted the case to have gotten that outcome. It didn’t get that far (for better and worse). It would be nice if reputations worked that way, but it isn’t obvious that your reputation is adversely affected much by signing on to obviously wrong arguments – certainly not for politicians, more debatable for academics.

        Where are the bad incentives for poor arguments to come from?

      • Steve says:

        Andrew writes, “a rule that you get 1 point for each right answer and -1/4 point for each wrong answer. This disincentivized guessing. If the grading instead follows the usual rule and gives one point for each right answer, period, then you should guess on any item you don’t know the answer to. But the legal system sometimes seems to follow the rule that if you make 100 arguments and 99 are wrong and the last one is, hey, maybe, who knows, there’s some ambiguity in the law, how clever, etc., then you can win the entire case.”

        As a litigator, I can tell you that this is not true. A litigant does pay a price in terms of her credibility with the court for piling on dumb arguments. It may not be statistical, but the cost is real. Page limits alone mean that real lawyers need to edit out their weak arguments.

        Why does it feel to people on the outside that the legal practice is so frivolous? Well, in this instance, the lawyers involved on Trumps side were truly terrible. There case has no merit. So, it was hard to get a real lawyer to argue anything. Trump has a long history of this type of litigation in New York. He wants to use the legal system to bully. He has always filed lots of frivolous suits just to harass his enemies. Nothing comes of it. He settles before one gets to the point where a judge has to make a decision. Unfortunately, our system is not very good at dealing with this type of litigant for the simple reason that it will cost the other side a lot of money to bring the case to a point where litigants like Trump have to pay a price. So, I think we end up with a bimodal population of lawsuits, one with plenty of nonsense litigation that goes nowhere but still costs people money and grief, and another populated with meritorious litigation in which serious lawyers and judges deal with serious issues are dealt with in a serious way (not always the best way). The solution is to sanction more lawyers who cooperate with clients like Trump, but again someone has to pay the cost of getting those sanctions, and it will always be less expensive to settle.

        • Andrew says:

          Steve:

          Thanks for the background.

          I was once in the jury for a meritless slip-and-fall case, and it bothered me that the plaintiff and lawyer suffered no cost, other then their time, for cluttering the legal system with their suit, not to mention possibly stealing thousands of taxpayer dollars had the suit been successful.

          After the case was over—it took an entire week!—I ran into the city’s lawyer in the hallway and told her I felt sorry that she had to have wasted a week of her life defending against that ridiculous lawsuit, and she said that this is pretty much her job; she’d be getting another one on Monday.

          • Steve says:

            Andrew:

            My little bimodal model of litigation probably should have included another mode for personal injury litigation, which has different incentives and yes does lead to a lot more “why not take a shot” litigation strategies. There is also a considerable difference between state court practice and federal practice. It also very much depends on the particular jurisdiction. Here in Manhattan, there are so many attorneys, that a lawyer can run around filing nonsense for quite awhile without developing a bad reputation, while in smaller jurisdictions, the lawyer is going to pay a price to his credibility quickly. So, it is a problem our profession should try to fix, but it is not uniform. There are plenty of lawyers who have to worry about the reputational costs of taking a meritless position in court.

            • Joshua says:

              I don’t expect that Sidney Powell, or Giuliani, or Jenna Ellis, or Cruz, or Lin Wood, or Degenova, etc. will ever have to “pay a price.”

              In fact. I expect that to the contrary, none of them will have to pick up a tab in red America for the rest of their lives.

            • Ron Kenett says:

              Andrew – Yes, Nassim Taleb calls this “skin in the game”. He even wrote a book about it. The concept has implications also to the application of statistics. Another point Nassim makes, that relates to this, is the difference between a dentist and an epidemiologist. Mistakes made by the first one are noticed and many times painful, not so for the second one.

              I used this analogy in http://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Kenett-On-a-Life-Cycle-View-2014.pdf in the context of problem eliciation. Dentist are trained to identify a problem in a structured way, not so for statisticians. At least not so from a methodological perspective where apprenticeship is still the prevailing approach. We need more research on problem elicitation.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are “principled” arguments in all political quarters for rank dishonesty, and in fact there is a case to be made that sometimes the end really does justify the means. The problem right now is two-fold: we have a political movement that (a) grants itself an unlimited warrant for lying about everything and (b) controls one of the two dominant parties and much of the media. This movement has transparently adopted this practice for decades.

      It’s worth thinking about how the extreme cynicism of movement conservatism today stacks up against other sources of dishonesty. American foreign policy under Cold War liberalism engaged in its own deceits (read any history of the CIA). Stalinism rested on a willingness to lie about more or less everything. Commercial advertising has always shaded into deceptive practices. It’s not like there’s a pristine universe out there that movement conservatives are uniquely soiling.

      My take is that the (a) and (b) above are why this particular tide of dishonesty is a big concern, not that they have a monopoly on this stuff.

      • Anoneuoid says:

        This one is even better. I have no idea if this is about democrats or republicans!

        • Peter Dorman says:

          Well that’s the point. The logic applies generally. You have to fill in your own subject knowledge.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            Well that’s the point. The logic applies generally. You have to fill in your own subject knowledge.

            Take the exact same words and apply to democrats and it fits just as well. That is why you can go to some republican site and see the exact same comment, probably going back decades. Just endless cynical lying and creation of distracting spectacles.

            Meanwhile… the debt and spying grows.

            • Joshua says:

              > Take the exact same words and apply to democrats and it fits just as well.

              Stated as fact. And of course unfalsifiable.

              > That is why you can go to some republican site and see the exact same comment,

              I think that’s certainly true. Just as we can find media-blaming pretty much equally on both sides of the aisle. The theory of ideologically-oriented motivated reasoning pretty well predicts that we will find motivation impugning, accusations of lying, etc., to be pretty much the same on both sides of the aisle, and also that on both sides of the aisle we will see ubiquitous theories of out-group (bad guy) homogeneity and in-group (good guy) homogeneity.

              But that, in itself, doesn’t mean that there aren’t any real differences across groups – only that it’s awfully hard to gain some kind of objective perspective on whether they exist.

              Haidt is pretty good in that regard, IMO, although I think that he makes a lot of unsupported arguments about the significance of differences between groups in comparison to differences within groups.

              > Just endless cynical lying and creation of distracting spectacles.

              Stated as fact. And of course, unfalsifiable.

            • Phil says:

              Anon,

              1. The suggestion that there is no meaningful difference between the parties is borderline ridiculous. Perhaps the difference is not huge if you literally only care about debt and spying, although there are differences there too.

              2. Representatives of both parties lie, but in the past decade or so, and especially in the past few years, we have seen the GOP lies become more numerous, more consequential, and more damaging by far than those on the other side. I don’t think the recent attempt to destroy American democracy had any real chance of succeeding, but if Trump had won four more years then something similar might have worked four years from now. They’ve also lied about the dangers of COVID, about the science behind climate change, etc. etc. Yes, there are lies on the Democratic side too, but “if you like your health plan you’ll be able to keep it” is not the same level at all. Your statement that both parties lie so what’s the difference comes across as something like “A and B are both greater than 0, therefore they are equal.”

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Perhaps the difference is not huge if you literally only care about debt and spying, although there are differences there too.

                These are the two most important issues, the rest are at best distractions or ultimately stem from those.

              • somebody says:

                Housing, healthcare, finance—those are the government abuses that affect > 50% of the population every day, and it emerges from a bipartisan effort to make sure certain asset classes only go up in price. Bush did TARP, Obama did QE, and Trump continued to pump QE while making tax transfers to the rich. I’m not going to be as flippant as anon in dismissing the onerous immigration policy from one side or the role of government as cultural leadership, but strictly with respect to material policy affecting most people on the daily, these seem awful similar. The biggest difference is that Obama was smart and smooth enough to get away with drone striking US citizens with minimal backlash—is “competence” really such a good thing?

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Bush did TARP, Obama did QE, and Trump continued to pump QE

                Also, on the spying front: Bush did PATRIOT ACT, Obama did NDAA 2013 (Smith–Mundt Modernization Act of 2012) and Trump did FASAB 56.

                And watch this: https://youtube.com/watch?v=lShcc8B-96E

                The “important” stuff gets through without resistance.

              • Phil says:

                somebody (and Anon):

                It’s interesting that you guys don’t think Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — the big socialist programs that are widely supported now but would not have been initiated under Republican control of the government — make a big enough difference in people’s lives to be worth considering. I can see being for them or against them, but to say there’s not much difference between having them and not having them…well, clearly you define “not much difference” differently from me. And of course Obamacare, not ‘socialist’ in the same way as the others but still involving the imposition of power by the government, would not have been done by the Republicans either.

                I don’t know much about either of you, perhaps you are young whippersnappers to whom the Clinton presidency seems like ancient history, but it only ended 20 years ago and I’m 55 years old so it doesn’t seem so long ago to me. The federal government was running a surplus when Clinton left office, so again, “they all run up debt” is just wrong. Then W came in and cut taxes, and various financial controls were relaxed…perhaps you both think that would have happened under Gore, too, or maybe you think the deficit and the financial crisis would have happened just the same and weren’t much affected by the tax cut and the reduced regulation. Or perhaps you think sure, the financial crisis wouldn’t have happened, but it’s not really a big deal, in the way Social Security and Medicare and Obamacare aren’t big enough to notice. And maybe you think that if the Obama administration didn’t spend hugely to try to restore the economy he would have just found some other excuse to spend the money (and convinced Congress to go along), because hey, what president (besides Clinton) doesn’t like to run up debt?

                The Iraq war, too? I think we would have gone into Afghanistan no matter who was president, but although it’s hard to be sure, I don’t think Gore would have started the war in Iraq. It has cost a ton of money, which I would have thought you would both include as having contributed to the debt. But maybe you think Gore and subsequent presidents would have just spent that money anyway (see concluding sentence of the preceding paragraph).

                If you think everything I listed above is too small to count in your assessment, then OK, you’re allowed to think that of course, but I hope you realize that most people see these as pretty big deals. They certainly affect people’s lives a lot.

                If, instead, you think all of these things would have happened at approximately the same time (let’s say within ten years) and in approximately the same way, if we imagine different outcomes for presidential races…well, that’s untestable, obviously, but I really don’t think it’s the case and you’d have to work hard to convince me it’s even plausible.

              • Andrew says:

                Phil:

                +1 for some sanity here. The rhetoric in this thread was getting into twitter-like levels of sloganeering.

              • Joshua says:

                I think it’s easy to overestimate the effect of the party of the president (particularly since the party of Congress needs to be factorsled in). That said, prior to Obama inheriting a financial crisis, over quite a few presidents (six IIRC), the debt as a % of the GDP and the revenue to debt ratio were notably higher with Dem presidents than Rep presidents.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                The federal government was running a surplus when Clinton left office, so again, “they all run up debt” is just wrong.

                National debt grew by about $1.5 trillion under clinton:

                https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GFDEBTN/

              • Joshua says:

                Ooops. Debt as a % of GDP *LOWER* with Dems as prez, revenue to debt HIGHER…

              • Dale Lehman says:

                This is in response to Anoneuoid and someone else above. Come on, I expect better from people on this blog. Yes, the debt was larger when Clinton left office than when he started, and yes, there was a budget surplus (not deficit) when he left office. Once is a stock and the other is a flow. And I know you people are smart enough to know the difference. So, stop debating different policy views through selective evidence.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Point is the debt will grow whether you elect republicans or democrats. Result is wealth inequality grows and you get price inflation wherever that new money goes first.

                In the US thats healthcare, military, higher education, stocks and other investment assets, etc.

                This will continue under a Biden presidency I assure you.

              • Phil says:

                Anon,
                Yes, A > 0 and B > 0. But this does not mean A == B.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                I never mentioned budget surpluses or deficits… I am only concerned about running up the debt and effect this has on growing wealth inequality and the power of banks.

              • Joshua says:

                Anoneuoid –

                > I never mentioned budget surpluses or deficits… I am only concerned about running up the debt and effect this has on growing wealth inequality and the power of banks.

                I thought the point of entry into this discussion was whether there is any material relative difference between the parties.

                Seems to me that an established pattern of differentially less debt and more income relative to debt (not to mention growth overall, employment, etc.), since your focus is on debt, would be relevant to you.

              • somebody says:

                @Phil

                I don’t think those are small issues, nor do I think the two parties are the same. I think things like “only care about winning, unlimited warrant for lying” apply to both.

                Ima lay my cards on the table; I am a pretty young whippersnapper, so from where I sit, Obama’s Democrats had a supermajority for a couple of years, and from that it doesn’t look like they ever wanted to pull out of Afghanistan or close Guantanamo, or universal health care, wealth transfers, or wall street accountability. Some of those he issues are essentially under the exclusive unilateral control of the President.

                Again, I’m not saying they’re the same, or that any issues where I prefer one over the other are petty and unimportant. But when it comes to what I see as the subject of discussion, lying and dishonesty, the major difference seems to me to be that one side has the skills and feels the compulsion to deceive most people, while the other lies with the full and proud knowledge that they’ve convinced almost nobody.

              • Phil says:

                somebody,
                Obama was baaaaarely able to get Obamacare passed, so the suggestion that he could have gotten universal health care passed (in the sense in which I think you mean it) seems really implausible. Not all Democratic lawmakers (or their constituents) are as Bernie Sanders!

                You say ” I think things like “only care about winning, unlimited warrant for lying” apply to both.” Could be; I’m not sure how we would test this, or even what it means if we get right down to it. Within the supporters of both parties there are people who are willing to tell any lie, and people who are not willing to lie at all, and everything in between. And you can find historical instances of big lies told on both sides.

                You may be right that both sides are somehow equally _willing_ to lie, but the Dems don’t think it would serve them to do so, or something… could be, I dunno. But there have been some phenomena in the past twenty or thirty years that have led to a divergence of which side actually tells the lies, and how much. The Republicans are currently the big liars. Climate change? Hoax. “China virus”? No worse than the flu. Family separation policy? Was started by Obama. Russian interference in election? Fake news. Election? Won by Trump, stolen by Biden. And so on. They’ll say anything, and people will believe it. My guess is that this is largely due to Fox, an entire network that is willing to promote whatever view its Republican-supporting owners want them to. As a young whippersnapper you may be unaware that this is not the way it has always been. There has always been lying in politics and always will be — a politician who always tells the truth will lose to one who tells well-chosen lies — but what we’re experiencing these days is a different level. I don’t know if it’s literally unprecedented in all of U.S. history but it is definitely not normal.

            • Kyle C says:

              This equivalence is categorically false. Republicans at the federal level now campaign and run ads on policies that are the opposite of what the party members put in the party platform (when there was one) vote for, and even litigate for. Their internal party logic depends on lying to voters to do what donors want. Examples abound (taxes, pre-existing health conditions, troop levels overseas, etc.). You are free to dislike Democrats, but the party is not falsehood-based in anything like the same way. That’s false.

        • Joshua says:

          > I have no idea if this is about democrats or republicans!

          That, of course is bullshit. Even if you think it applies equally to both, you know who it was intended to characterize.

          I’ve been wondering for the last four years whether or not Trump’s lying is actually different in kind, magnitude, or significance from the lying of past presidents. Is it really that different than FDR hiding his disabilities? Different than Johnson lying to get us into a war?

          But one thing that I think is clear is the deliberateness and explicitness of lying as a strategy. Trump’s explicit use of that strategy is unarguable as it was well articulated for decades and goes back to Roy Cohn and Roger Stone as mentors.

          So then for me the question is whether the difference in terms of it being an explicit strategy is really a meaningful difference. And I think it might be – if perhaps only directly because the goal of that kind of strategy is to make it so people don’t believe Trump but neither do they believe anything his critics have to say. The idea is to flood the zone with complete bullshit so that no criticism can have any legs.

          And this extends to the legal wrangling around the election. And so there we get to why I think that these questions about what might be disincentivizing for someone like Cruz miss the point. Cruz’s incentives were to raise his political fortunes and actually had less to do with the outcomes of the case. Winning the case is actually a secondary incentive for Cruz, and for Trump even as well. He knew he was going to lose, but he still found an advantage in getting behind frivolous lawsuits because it would sow discord and please his base. And Trump’s lawyers don’t really care about such mundane matters either. Why would Powell go on to TV every day to say that here word was her bond and claim that she had irrefutable evidence that China and Venezuela stole votes from Trump? Clearly, she doesn’t consider the veracity of what she’s saying or whether she’ll win in court to be the standard she’s using to evaluate whether she’s realizing her incentives.

          • Joe says:

            I think you mean “bullshit” in the technical sense (when referring to Trump et.al):
            https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691122946/on-bullshit

          • Meg says:

            Trump’s lying is different in all three.

            The party lying is different from history and from democrats use of media. Republican media over the last decade and a half or so have pressed on the point that they are the only source of information that can be trusted. And that maybe even started as a way to keep a strong market share in a growing field of cable news, but it was seized on successfully by the party to control the information their voters hear.

            You rarely hear that from anywhere else and now conservative channels are out bidding eachother.

            So I think there has been a shift in the republican party away from a group people who believe in government but have different ideas about it than democrats. Because of a whole lot of things I don’t know enough about but also demographics, the most reliable way for them to hold on to power has been to prevent as many people from voting as possible along with their aggressive and early jerrymandering they have
            been able to retain control (off and on) in congress.

            It feels fundamentally different now than it did 20 years ago, but I think that’s mostly because the sap they started with a few decades ago is nearly syrup. The party accidentally created a base that would find a guy like Trump (who has clear contempt for government) appealing. And when that happened they had to scramble to stay on board, because they weren’t ready to burn the whole system down quite yet. But maybe if the other option is losing power/money/influence.

            And Ted Cruz, as others (maybe you) pointed out, made a zero risk wager by saying he’d represent the case.

            Cruz wants to run for president. The only way that trump winning this time is in his interest is he couldn’t run in 2024 (at least not while we still have a functioning government).

            Other people in the world have called for court sanctions on the lawyers making what are basically nuisance suits to state and federal supreme courts (In some of the state suits they named counties that were from OTHER states that they were bringing cases in!) If Powell feels so confident about her proof, the least she could do is make sure the basic facts of geography are correct. There are even MAPS for that. No statistical errors needed.

    • TBW says:

      “All that matter is winning.” No one wins when all that matters is winning. It’s a negative sum game. I blame Roy Cohn for all of this. From McCarthy to Murdoch to Trump, he is the original evil.

  3. gec says:

    My only regret is that this is happening after the semester is over so I have to wait till next semester to use it as an example in my intro stats class.

    • Joe says:

      You might have said that purely in jest, but would you really use it as an example? I’d be worried the discussion would go off the rails about politics (whether for or against Trump) and the important points about stats would get lost.

      • gec says:

        While I agree that “hot button” examples can be distracting and should be used sparingly, they’re valuable in at least two ways:
        1) The first way is shared by any good example: it illustrates the use of class material in an engaging way.
        2) The second is showing that students taking the class have a “leg up” on even a supposedly smart, powerful figure. The point is to get students to feel empowered, to understand that they don’t have to just accept what someone says because it is gussied up in technical-sounding language. As others have pointed out, much published research commits the same errors as this guy does, but undergrads typically don’t have a strong connection to research (yet), so something public like this often gets the point across better.

        That said, I agree that using the example has to be structured well in order to keep things productive. The point is to not to harp on what this guy did wrong, but to use that as a starting point. From there, we can reverse-engineer what someone would have to have done to properly address the question–what is the data you would need, what potential biases might be present in sampling and how could those be addressed, what quantities should be compared and how, etc. This keeps the discussion oriented toward the material to be learned and again serves the goal of getting students to realize that “knowledge is power”.

  4. rpg says:

    With respect to your P.P.P.S. (did I count right?) on today’s legal profession, this opinion piece in The New Republic seems apposite: https://newrepublic.com/article/160481/neal-katyal-depravity-big-law

    Apologies for the tangent, but perhaps some will find it interesting.

    I wonder if at some point in the future our adversarial legal system will come to be seen in the same light as trial by combat? It’s not obvious that it is conducive to justice.

    • Andrew says:

      Rpg:

      Yes, this topic has come up before on the blog; see here. I blame LA Law. And then there was the OJ trial. That Kardashian guy—he kept a murderer escape punishment! But, hey, he won the case: what a feather in his cap, huh? The Janet Malcolm article I linked to annoyed me even more, in some ways, in that she was angry at a lawyer who didn’t succeed in getting a murderer off the hook. She seemed to feel not just that every killer has a right to a defense, but that every killer has a right to use the legal system to escape punishment.

    • gdanning says:

      The argument in the piece in The New Republic is based on a dubious premise: That the position advocated by Katyal on behalf of his clients is incorrect. The issues in the two companion cases are:

      ” (1) Whether an aiding and abetting claim against a domestic corporation brought under the Alien Tort Statute may overcome the extraterritoriality bar where the claim is based on allegations of general corporate activity in the United States and where the plaintiffs cannot trace the alleged harms, which occurred abroad at the hands of unidentified foreign actors, to that activity; and (2) whether the judiciary has the authority under the Alien Tort Statute to impose liability on domestic corporations.”

      and

      ” (1) Whether the presumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute is displaced by allegations that a U.S. company generally conducted oversight of its foreign operations at its headquarters and made operational and financial decisions there, even though the conduct alleged to violate international law occurred in – and the plaintiffs suffered their injuries in – a foreign country; and (2) whether a domestic corporation is subject to liability in a private action under the Alien Tort Statute.’

      I don’t know what the correct answer to those questions are, and I doubt that anyone here does, either. The TNR, and I suspect some people here, think that the issue is “is child slavery ok?” That isn’t the issue. As the SCOTUSblog article that TNR criticizes notes, the plaintiffs “specifically do not allege that the companies knew that child slavery was ongoing.” Are the companies liable under the Alien Tort Statute (enacted 1789) for acts of subcontractors of which they were unaware? Maybe! If not, should they be? Probably! But it escapes me how a lawyer arguing otherwise is somehow morally bankrupt.

  5. Hello Andrew,

    I’m a statistics enthusiast. I appreciate the effort that goes into these articles and I especially enjoy the many rabbit-holes I can find using the links. I love that I occasionally need to look stuff up to get through a paragraph breaking down the failings or explaining details of a particular analyses. (Especially when I feel like I get it.) I’m all about the details.

    This article was special for me. People are told they should be skeptical of lies, damned lies, and statistics. I thought I understood reasonably well. I thought the lies of statistics were in the paragraphs with difficult details and jargon. The early sentence with armwaving that actually drives the conclusions; the sophisticated analyses of crappy data; the strange exclusion of simple plots; these are the tools of the technician who lies. I thought a person would need at least a college level understanding of statistics to lie on purpose. Not So. The lies of statistics that are more repugnant than damned lies couldn’t get past a Community College Stats teacher grading homework.

    I’ve been looking at it wrong my entire life.

    This is a wider perspective and it makes my day.

    Thank You

    • Anoneuoid says:

      The lies of statistics that are more repugnant than damned lies couldn’t get past a Community College Stats teacher grading homework.

      This is not really an accurate portrayal. The erroneous statistics being applied here is what has been taught in stats 101 for a long time. It started with EF Lindquist’s 1940 textbook ““Statistical Analysis in Educational Research” where he misinterpreted “null hypothesis” to mean “hypothesis of zero difference” rather than “hypothesis to be nullified”. He also merged together Fisher’s significance testing with Neyman-Pearson hypothesis testing into a “hybrid” that makes no sense.

      Amongst other issues, this reversed the logic of science. The biggest problem is that it is standard now for people to test a meaningless null hypothesis no one believes instead of *their* hypothesis.

      https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/12/08/the-p-value-is-4-76×10%e2%88%92264-1-in-a-quadrillion/#comment-1610201
      https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/12/08/the-p-value-is-4-76×10%e2%88%92264-1-in-a-quadrillion/#comment-1611288

      So I do not believe the guy is lying, just applying what he was taught and has been doing (along with his peers) his entire career. That just happens to be nonsense.

      • I agree that the guy didn’t sign the document knowing his analyses were an agglomeration of errors that don’t support his beliefs. In that sense, he didn’t lie. I do think he created a particularly good example of lies that are more repugnant than damned lies.

        He presented himself as an expert with qualifications. He then produced a technical analyses to support his particular viewpoint. The application of statistics was so poorly done, so erroneous, that it is better suited to a TED talk by Dunning or Krueger than it is to his purposes. If he’s not the liar in this situation, then it’s only his incompetence that washes him of it. That others are happy to point to the statistics as some kind of technial magic that confirms their bias, when it’s actually an erroneous failure, is just a variation that explains why damned lies are somewhat less repugnant, right?

        Your reply to my comment, however, might be an entirely additional step for me.

        I feel like Dr. Cicchetti’s attempt to look at election results over time, in some similar fashion, could be done correctly. Fraud or corruption could introduce unexpected patterns or inexplicable shifts or other issues.

        I get the idea that the problem you (and Andrew) perceive is not so much the “expert” who fails to do it right. It’s the widely held belief that NHST can be put to good use all over the place.

        Is the issue that it can be that useful, but people botch the applications and the standard of practice is just an ongoing train wreck? Is the issue that it isn’t actually as useful as many people, including myself, often believe?

        That’s interesting.

  6. LarryG says:

    If you think that what’s happening is no big deal compared with the disenfranchisement of Black people, wait until you see what’s about to happen in the upcoming Georgia Senate run-off.

  7. John Williams says:

    There is another reason for pushing false claims of election fraud besides trying to please DJT. If enough people believe you, you can make it harder to vote: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/us/mail-voting-absentee.html

  8. Jackson Monroe says:

    As one of many passerbys of this article I have to say I agree with you.

  9. Dzhaughn says:

    I’m afraid you are seriously misconstruing the Amicus brief you site in the title of your post.

    You can read the dull Amicus brief here: https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/10/politics/read-house-republicans-texas-supreme-court/index.html

    What statistical arguments do you object to? I find no statistical arguments of any kind.

    What does that brief seek for beyond Supreme Court reviewing the implications of state executives failing to follow state law when conducting elections? (I suppose on an expedited basis.) I find nothing. The brief certainly doesn’t advocate overturning the election result.

    The idea that filing an Amicus in support of a court hearing a case is endorsing all the claims lawyers make in that suit is patently false. The CNN story could confuse a readers on that point, but that is no surprise. It seems to me a McCarthyite rhetorical tactic: If one supports anything that Trump supports, then one is a collaborator with Trump.

    • Andrew says:

      Dzhaughn:

      I followed the link. Here’s a key sentence:

      “Due in large part to those usurpations, the election of 2020 has been riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.”

      Later in that paragraph they refer to “these anomalies.” They provide no evidence of any such allegations or anomalies. Presumably an allegation should have to have some plausibility, right? Well, there is one “anomaly” in that horrible expert report, the one with the 1-in-a-quadrillion p-value. So it would seem a bit odd to take this amicus, which speaks of “allegations of fraud and irregularities” and “anomalies,” and not associate it with the specific claims of fraud and anomalies made in the lawsuit.

      If the 17 attorney generals and 100 congressmembers and Ted Cruz want to endorse the lawsuit without endorsing the ridiculous and unsupported claims of fraud, then they could say so explicitly. Otherwise they seem to be in the position of someone endorsing a claim about the Loch Ness monster while somehow not taking a position on whether the photo in question is real.

      • Min says:

        “Due in large part to those usurpations, the election of 2020 has been riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.”

        “unprecedented number” indicates an informal seat of the pants statistical argument of the “If there’s smoke there’s fire” variety.

        “serious allegations” relies upon the ambiguity of “serious”, which could mean “grave” or could mean “to be taken seriously”. These allegations are grave, but not to be taken seriously. The court did not.

        “fraud and irregularities” is a common rhetorical device of pairing something important that occurs infrequently with relatively unimportant things that occur frequently. An indicator of bullshit.

      • Dzhaughn says:

        “Amici respectfully aver that it is the solmen duty of the Court to provide an objective review of these anomolies…”

        Yeah, say that in a bar and you’ll start a brawl, eh?

  10. John Williams says:

    Thanks for the link to the “dull Amicus brief.”

  11. Bob76 says:

    Andrew wrote: “. I can’t bring myself to say “attorneys general,” any more than I can bring myself to say “whom.””

    Sigh. I had developed such a high regard for Andrew and now it all has crashed down. If you saw the general counsel of Columbia University eating lunch with the general counsel of MIT, you could refer to them as the general counsels but never as the generals counsel. Relatedly, the surgeon general of the U.S. Navy is an admiral and the general counsel of the Navy is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

    So, what’s the difficulty with attorneys general—they are attorneys not generals.

    Bob76

    • Phil says:

      The problem with “attorneys general” is that it sounds wrong to 99% of people, or more. It sounds wrong to me, too, but I sort of enjoy it, it’s just a pleasant bit of pedantry. Relatedly: A teacher once said that in English we put the adjective before the verb, e.g. a ‘fast car’ not a ‘car fast’, and I spent the next half hour thinking of counterexamples and blurting them out. (“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…” and of course “attorney general” and “court martial” and so on.)

      If you think of ‘attorney general’ as two words that are in archaic word order — which is manifestly the case — then yeah, ‘attorneys general’ is obviously right. But nearly nobody thinks of it that way. We treat “attorney general” as a single linguistic unit — a single ‘word’ — and the rule for pluralizing a word is to add s to the end.

      I know you know all this. I see you as a kindred spirit, in that you enjoy thinking about this stuff. Perhaps you will join my rearguard action to try to protect ‘data’ as a plural?

      • Bob76 says:

        . . . protect data as a plural. Sigh. I’ve just about given up on that. I still use data as a plural noun but I hardly wince when it is used as a singular noun.

        If you scroll to the bottom of the page at this link https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2012/07/data-is-or-data-are.html you will find arguments for data as a singular mass noun.

        Bob76

      • Patrick says:

        There are many compounds in English that are considered single works. Some of them have spaces; some don’t (it’s determined by the spoken language, not the written language). But even if “Attorney General” is considered a single word, we can *still* pluralize it in the middle. This is because English does allow for something called an “infix.” Everyone knows what prefixes and suffixes are. Infixes are simply morphemes placed between other morphemes in an otherwise stand-alone multi-morphemic word. In English, we do it all the time with the word “f*cking” (as in “abso-f*cking-lutely). And sometimes, the infix sounds better than the suffixed version for plurals (“passersby” sounds better than “passerbys” or “passerbies”, or however you’d spell it). I’m not sure about “Attorneys General.” It does sound a bit stuffy to me. Andrew is right, however, that “whom” is bad. It’s a dead pronoun. It died many, many years ago in the spoken language. It survives as a fossil only among the overly educated, and those who try to sound highly educated. Most linguist cringe when they see others try to use it. It’s about 50/50 in terms of getting it right. It seems to be at about chance.

    • Howard Edwards says:

      Same issue if you live in a British commonwealth country – the Queen’s representative is the Governor General and collectively they should be referred to as Governors General but are usually called Governor Generals. The two words are sometimes joined by a hyphen which doesn’t help. also courts martial vs court martials – usually written as one word courtmartial so it happens even more often.

      Isn’t there some French/English legal/military connection here? (In French the adjective often comes after the noun.)

      And in a slightly different vein – “throwing the shot put” vs “putting the shot”.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Upthread, rpg said, “With respect to your P.P.P.S.”
      This raises the question, “What is the proper plural of P.P.P.S.?”

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Bob76 said,
      “Andrew wrote: “. I can’t bring myself to say “attorneys general,” any more than I can bring myself to say “whom.”””

      I guess age cohort may play a role here. I’m fine with “whom” even more than with “attorneys general”. One situation in which I am particularly apt to use it is in asking, “To whom am I speaking, please?” when I get an unsolicited telephone call from an unidentified speaker.

  12. Phil says:

    Andrew, you say “I disagree with Senator Chris Murphy who described the recent attempts to reverse the election as “the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our of country.” It’s not as serious as when all those southern states stopped letting black people vote, right?”

    I’m not sure. Which is worse, disenfranchising people by not letting them vote, or by letting them vote and then discarding the votes? To you the answer is obvious, but it’s not obvious to me. My initial thought is that I disagree with you: they’re both bad, but discarding the votes that you don’t like, once you’ve seen what they are, seems even worse than disenfranchising people you think will vote against you. I could see the argument the other way, too, though. Anyway if Murphy had said “arguably the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy…” I would say sure, I agree.

  13. Ian says:

    I say the House should convene another HUAC where the key question is not “Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?” but rather, “Are you now or have you ever been a Republican?”

    • Andrew says:

      Huh? The whole thing about the communist thing was that people were secretly communist. It’s not a secret that those attorney generals and congressmembers are Republicans.

      Sometimes I feel like people in the comments section are responding to something other than what is in the post.

      • Ian says:

        Huh? Your interpretation of the original HUAC hearings is a bit off. Regardless, I’m amazed that you took my comment seriously.

        • informed prior says:

          We just did BDA3 at our book club and it was interesting to read lengthy discussions on priors.
          What is the reasonable prior here, given *all* the available information (not just disseminated by an obviously biased media)?

          Tens of thousands of people attended Mr Trump’s rallies. Mr Biden and Ms Harris drew 20 people on a good day. It was sad to watch Mr Obama being treated as a nobody as well, while thousands of people attended BLM rallies.
          And yet, it is at best an uninformed prior or a prior biased against these observations.

          Statistics is indeed an art!

          • Andrew says:

            Informed:

            We have further discussion of priors in our article on workflow and in this wiki.

            Regarding rallies, etc.: recall that well over 100 million Americans vote and only a small fraction of these people attend political rallies. There is a useful expression from the 1960s, the silent majority, which points to this distinction.

      • Min says:

        The Republican AGs and congresscritters are secretly anti-republican.

        The GOP should change its mascot to the Rhino. ;)

  14. Renzo Alves says:

    “Every game has its rules.”

    I’ve recommended before this little article by Lee J. Cronbach (of Cronbach’s Alpha fame). Here I will provide the details without discussing it because it’s short and readable. The issue he discusses is not voting, but the principles apply generally. “Five Decades of Public Controversy Over Mental Testing.” American Psychologist, January 1975, pp. 1-14. (You can find it at scholar.google.com/ncr.)

    I don’t have an agenda but I do have a point. It’s that it’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness. (Unless you just enjoy complaining and like having no public policy impact.)

  15. Dan Bowman says:

    I’m still hoping for a follow-up post titled “…and the Supreme Court ducked.”

  16. Chebyshev says:

    Are we really talking about punishing people for making “wrong” arguments?
    The whole point of the justice system is that the judge (or a jury of peers) decides.
    That is regardless of what *you* think is correct. Take that out and everyone of us could end up in trouble for saying the “wrong” thing.

    On another note, imagine your PhD supervisor flogged you every time you made an incorrect “guess”!
    That would be fun.

    • Andrew says:

      Chebyshev:

      1. Nobody’s talking about punishing statisticians and economists for these arguments. Paying a reputational cost for publicly making an asinine argument is not a form of punishment. The arguments in question are as stupid as those of Daryl Bem in his notorious ESP paper, and damn straight he and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paid a reputational cost for that.

      2. You put “wrong” in scare quotes, but the arguments in question are indeed wrong. All the moral relativism in the world won’t make that good statistics.

      3. Incorrect guesses are fine. We make incorrect guesses all the time. If the people in question had presented their statements as “guesses,” I’d be much less troubled. Their arguments were not only wrong, they were also presented with inappropriate certainty in a high-stakes setting. That’s bad; it’s nothing like a student making some guesses as part of the learning process.

    • Zhou Fang says:

      Expert witnesses can and have been censured for giving bad testimony to the court.

      See e.g. http://constructionblog.practicallaw.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-expert-witnesses/

      More broadly contempt of court is a thing that exists.

  17. jonathan says:

    Andrew, this case is egregious but it’s on a spectrum or segment, not a random point on the far side of bad or crazy. Parties, causes, ideologies, etc. line up, and the definitions along the edges unite some and divide others. In this case, Trump as President acts as a pole, and that causes many in the party to align with him just because he’s President and is popular among their shared voters. The arguments made are absurd, but they can be made because there is a process which determines the outcome apart from absurdity. As in, in normal times, no one notices the Electoral College meetings at all, but now they associate drama with them, even though that drama was entirely of no effect on the outcome and never could have been because there is a process.

    Why is interesting. I’ve had to talk many people down who believed the Supreme Court would install Trump because, you know, they would put loyalty to Trump above their oaths, above their professions, above the country. That’s not a rational belief, but I’ve had many otherwise rational people tell me there could be a coup. As if the military would support Trump because he’s Commander (which shows a near complete ignorance of military rules). As if Justices were nothing but characters in a play. That is perspective lock: they cant see the absurdity of their arguments, though they are typically highly educated professionals, because they’ve pinned Trump in their minds and they induce whatever strings of connections are necessary so Trump is some sort of movie super-villain. When I say they’ve pinned Trump, I mean they define the potential space over which the probabilities run as having a far end, a defining endpoint which determines where the chains end. This has the effect of imposing causal inference so it runs backwards and forwards to that endpoint.

    (This is one of the ideas I have about the future of stats from your article: better inversion to endpoints that impose ordering of chains, so the enclosing potential space is defined well enough that it then fits to better definable boundaries over the objects inside, which includes the chains in their pieces and as entireties. So better bidirectional causal inference occurring within potential that doesnt just exit but which actively tailors. There’s a model behind that. It was not developed for statistics, so I’ve been thinking about how, given your blog/articles, it might fit well enough that it makes sense. It just seems that if you could describe what you find from the outside better, that would be helpful. That is, if you treat functions as generating data from within those functions, and the data appearing as a layer that represents output, all standard, then it’s hard to define the space the larger space in which the functions occur. This model encloses those spaces and reduces the enclosure to the boundary, so you control the infinities and the explosions of complexity that occur as you chase into the space that surrounds any function. The model layers the complex fields so the multiple threads that occur develop according to basic rules by which threadings complicate. As in, it’s the 1-0-1 model because 0 represents complexity and that complexity arises in threads that occur with at least apparent simultaneity, so as you leave your door and arrive elsewhere you could have taken any route that matches the endpoints. This allows categorization of forms of complexity, and provides tools for reducing those forms to the most efficient, as with those days when you make every light and you get there the fastest you can. Anyway.)

    Trump is a good example: if you set him as the pin, you take that perspective over the space. You could set him as the pin like I do: he’ll bluster and make noise for some reason that may not be evident, but he’s not a super villain and doesnt control the minds of the Supreme Court. (My guess: other than ego, he wants to avoid prosecution, so he makes noise about being cheated and being persecuted.) This means I have other pins: the process is the other pin. This sets up two general pathways; one that leads from me through the known process to Trump, and one that runs from Trump away from known process back to me. These run back and forth and they run around the square. At the far edge of my process pin is faith in the Court, in what I know about the Court, what I know about the military, etc., and then there’s a line that runs across where that process has no value and they’re political hacks loyal to Trump and he’s going to get his case in front of the Court and they’ll make him President and the so on. That’s bidirectional segment in which that Trump stuff is 0 where my faith in the process is 1, and the other way round. So I treat this as a square, draw the hypotenuse from me to Trump and I see the halves of the arguments in their perspectives. So for example, a loop that runs from me through process to Trump to no process to me asks if anything about what Trump says changes my view of process, which I test by checking whether the specific non-beliefs in process invert into, meaning not the inversion of faith in process generally but the specific inversion that connects the actualities of what is said and done. Run it the other way. Check it over from me to Trump, Trump to me to see where the path sits still, and I see the last weeks as a pseudo-drama because there was no chance of any other result. I say no chance because there was the potential for a chance for Trump to win until the votes were counted. After that, the certification battles, etc. are all perspective dependent, and my belief in the nature of the system said no way.

    It’s fairly clear the confusion flows from the closeness. The beliefs in unfair elections outside the US is widespread. A very large part of America now comes from those parts of the world. They come from parts of the world which have little faith in their systems. And I mean many developed and developing countries, not the poorest ones. Most judicial systems arent fair. If corruption is controlled, it’s because the system is autocratic. Add to that the clear demonstrations of lack of faith in the system or its processes all summer long by various alienated groups.

    In the model, Trump pins these various threads together: your anxieties, histories, etc. become embodied by him, positive for some but of course very negative for others, so he’s the bogeyman or some unkillable movie serial killer in orange hair and a blue suit. Dont Jews act as that for huge numbers of people worldwide? It isnt just that there’s need to blame, but there’s a need to pin that blame to an actuality. Jews do this themselves on selichot; they toss rocks into the water to pin to the sins they’re tossing off themselves.

    This is part of what’s so weird about my work: the pins are typically right in front of you but they’re very hard to recognize because you are embedded in a perspective that itself flows out of a complication.

    So yeah, this is an egregious case but it fits who we’ve become. Distrust of processes has grown as people have come from places where process should not be trusted. And of course the overwhelming presence of media – from a million TV channels to the net – means we are swimming in manipulation all day long. And Trump’s form of speaking is familiar to anyone whose history touches autocrats, etc. Identifying these parts is easy. Identifying the perspectives is hard.

    I saw a piece in a major outlet that said medical boards should take the licenses of doctors who contradict the prevailing line of advice. Umm, well meant and containing bit of logic, but to say that someone who thinks masks are particularly effective should lose their license suggests a perspective that isnt looking at any other perspective. There’s been a lot of that, but the model says there would be a lot of that in confusing times.

    So, to me, it sucks that so many lined up behind Trump, but is there a perspective where that makes sense? Yes. If you believe that loyalty to your party is important, then what happens if you turn on Trump: you empower the Democrats to demand you turn on your party again. Everyone knows that’s the case in regular party political decision-making. It’s the usual. So here’s a President. You dont like him. You know what he’s saying is nonsense. If you back him, the process takes care of the problem. If you dont back him, the Democrats now have an advantage over you: why arent you going against your President? If you view this through the perspective of party loyalty, you have to consider that loyalty occurs in competition, so it’s a choice for many of backing Trump through the process or giving the Democrats the cudgel of ‘you turned on one of your Presidents before, do it now or you’re evil’. I could label the segments if you want.

    You tend to expect too much of people. Some people are motivated by money. Others by sex. Others by attention and fame. If you can sell something, anything, the temptation is to keep selling it because, bluntly, it’s hard to sell things. Life is hard for most people. They arent as bright as you. They havent had a reasonable upbringing that allowed them to see, let alone pursue a career that fits their interests. They’re trying to get by.

    But mostly you (openly) struggle (a lot) with motivations as they reduce to work produced. Your approach embodies an idealism about how people perform their jobs, whatever those are. Lots of teachers arent any good. Haircutters vary incredibly in quality. Cleaners clean worse or better. God knows anyone who does work in your home is a crapshoot. Your expectations dont match the reality. I praise you for that generally when it reduces to published papers and your field. But about politics? No. If you shed the idealisms, it makes more sense because you see the perspectives more clearly.

    How deeply is this process embedded? Look at something. Close one eye, then the other. You can see you have overlapping fields. When you look at something, which eye sees it? Which eye provides a field that the other focuses? In literally everything you look at, you have a choice of which eye brings it in focus. For me, the process is obvious because my left eye is further sighted: it sees a more ambiguous field up close and my right eye finds the focal distance that clarifies the ambiguities. Even people with exactly equal vision have this complication: one eye leads to one side of the brain more than the other eye. I also was near-sighted and the same process occurs, but drawing the words (and the ideas) close to you. It’s in everything. There is always a first order complication as long as there are 2 paths. (This then allows for 2nd and higher order complications.)

    Anyway. Thanks for your time. I dont know if I’ll be posting anymore. So I want to say thank you for the inspiration while I can. Thank you.

    Jonathan

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