ALL ROADS LEAD TO BIAS: Dowd does it again!


Part 1—Also, an apt rumination: As MSNBC did it again; as Maureen Dowd went there again; as many liberals played the fool again, thrilling to a “revelation” (Anderson Cooper) which didn’t exist from a highly unreliable source:

As all these pitiful moments occurred, the New York Times ran an interesting rumination on page 12 of Sunday Review.

By way of contrast, Dowd’s column—it was much longer than usual—had been placed on page 1 of that section. She was discussing the way Bill Clinton engaged in oral sex with a 23-year-old federal employee in the mid-1990s.

But then, what else isn’t new?

Predictably, the Times had rushed that column onto the Sunday Review’s front page. On page 12 of the same high-profile section, a political scientist from UCLA was talking about the American press corps, including the pathetic new branch of same which is being relentlessly hired and fired by the suits at MSBC.

On the surface, Michael Suk-Young Chwe wasn’t directly discussing the press corps. He was discussing the problem of bias—of so-called “confirmation bias”—in the world of science.

“Science is in crisis,” Chwe said. This is the way he started:
CHWE (2/2/14): Science is in crisis, just when we need it most. Two years ago, C. Glenn Begley and Lee M. Ellis reported in Nature that they were able to replicate only six out of 53 “landmark” cancer studies. Scientists now worry that many published scientific results are simply not true.
Funny that! A great deal of our modern journalism is also “simply not true.”

That doesn’t stop our “journalists” from repeating such claims. Often, they do so for years at a time, often as a group.

In his page 12 rumination, Chwe kept discussing the world of science. We kept thinking about the press corps. Here’s why:

Why is a lot of our science “simply not true?” In his second paragraph, this is what Chwe said:
CHWE: A major root of the crisis is selective use of data. Scientists, eager to make striking new claims, focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias”: We seek out information that confirms what we already believe. “We each begin probably with a little bias,” as Jane Austen writes in “Persuasion,” “and upon that bias build every circumstance in favor of it.”
But so it has gone for decades now, all across the mainstream press corps. And so it now goes among the self-regarding baboons who constitute the new work force at orgs like MSNBC.

So it has gone for many years in the world of conservative talk. According to Chwe, whose thesis isn’t new, so it is going in science.

In his rumination about science, Chwe discusses the “selective use of data.” Our journalists rarely bother with data, which they regard as boring. Instead, they engage in selective presentation of images and claims, many of which they have simply invented.

They people their tightly scripted tales with familiar characters: The best friend from high school; the fancy hotel. The 21-year-old intern; the dog which was strapped to the roof of the car.

They assess the character of public figures by their wardrobe selections. Lamar Alexander’s plaid shirts; Bill Bradley’s extremely old shoes, which revealed his sterling character. Al Gore’s boots and suits, his polo shirts, the height at which he hemmed his pants. The number of buttons he wore on his suits; the fact that one suit was brown.

They discuss the type of cheese a candidate puts on his cheese steak. They complain about candidates’ beverage choices—Obama’s selection of orange juice, Gore and Shriver’s Perrier.

They make up quotes and pretend people said them. They puzzle over pointless events from candidates’ high school years. (Such events may be real or imagined.)

They complain that Kerry went wind-surfing, that Obama didn’t know how to bowl! Haircuts have been a favorite topic, especially if they involve an airport delay which never happened.

David Broder invented a trick—asking candidates about the price of a gallon of milk. He also invented the claim that Candidate Muskie cried.

Years later, he copped to that invention. Within the guild, his colleagues knew that this confession must never be discussed.

In all these ways, our journalists, like Chwe’s scientists, “focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions.” In the case of our journalists, the “evidence” on which they focus has often been dreamed up.

We’ll look at several parts of Chwe’s rumination as the week proceeds. For today, let’s consider two more points raised by the Pacific-12 star.

What should science do about its problem? “To deal with the problem of selective use of data, the scientific community must become self-aware and realize that it has a problem,” Chwe sensibly says.

That is never going to happen with the guild we describe as a press corps. As we told you more than a decade ago, the mainstream press corps controls the press.

It controls what gets said about itself, something no other sector can do. With a very few exceptions, your favorite career liberal writers have agreed to disappear the process we are describing over the past several decades.

(As everyone knows, discussing the problems we are discussing is a route to a quick career death.)

That said, we note a bit of unintentional humor in Chwe’s piece. We refer to his use of Austen’s novels as a source of ideas about the problem of prejudice—of confirmation bias.

Why was Chwe’s use of Austen amusing? Out on page 1 of the Sunday Review, Dowd was stroking herself again about Bill Clinton’s blow jobs. She lives to talk about these events. Few other topics can satisfy her vast emotional needs.

Funnily, though, Dowd enjoys citing Austen too, especially when she is driving her favorite portrait of Major Dem Politicians:

In 2004, she decreed that “Mr. Kerry is Pride.” Quoting a statement he hadn’t made, Dowd compared Kerry to Mr. Collins, “Elizabeth Bennet's pretentious cousin in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ ”

She dragged in Kerry’s offensive wife, always a favorite move.

Four years later, Dowd stated a similar conclusion about Candidate Obama. “Obama bears a distinct resemblance to the most cherished hero in chick-lit history," the obsessive pundit opined. “The senator is a modern incarnation of the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy.”

We’d call that a “selective presentation of [images],” the desire to “focus only on [images and claims] that supports their preconceptions.” We chuckled to see Chwe discussing Austen yesterday in this context, even as Dowd was out on page 1 reliving her ten favorite blow jobs.

Chwe went on to discuss ways for science to heal itself. As he did, MSNBC had fired yet another staffer—or at least, it said it had—for the latest act of tribal race-baiting. Meanwhile, many liberals thrilled to the revelation which didn’t yet exist.

As Chwe discussed the world of science, we kept thinking of the wider public discourse.
In a New York Times news report, a high school friend was suddenly back—a high school friend who didn’t exist.

Dowd was back with a much older tale. It too had also involved a famous faux character—another of the invented figures who have made a relentless sick joke of our non-scientific lives.

Tomorrow: MSNBC does it again


  1. From the Nature paper "Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research" byC. Glenn Begley and Lee M. Ellis: "clinical trials in oncology have the highest failure rate compared with other therapeutic areas."

    Please note that, despite the way the press has frequently covered the matter (see also Ioannidis' work), the subject matter under discussion is medical research, not science in general.

    Mr. Somerby seems to have made the same mistake. Unusual, I know, but there you have it.

    1. He is using the problems of confirmation bias in scientific research as an analogy for problems with the press. He is not conducting a discussion about science itself. Again you mistake the superficialities of someone's writing style for the substance of the matter. Do you believe that because Somerby generalized from medical research to science in general, his point about confirmation bias in the press corps is invalid? These criticisms are very tiresome.

    2. Anon. @ 11:02

      We agree. BOB is not discussing science. He is
      covering Papio cynocephalus (yellow baboon journalists) in their tribal rituals covering their species' tribal mating behavior. Baboon mating behavior varies greatly depending on the social structure of the troop.

      BOB is particularly upset with the fixation of these baboons on the mythical tale of BILL, a fabled baboon troop leader.

      Females in the baboon troop, so the story goes, loved BILL. BILL had a mate since his days in the Ivy Baboon forest. He courted favor with all the females by trying to help groom his female mate, possibly making her the first of her gender to lead the troop. But BILL fell prey to typical male behavior.

      In mixed groups of baboons, each male can mate with any female and so it was with BILL. One day a female initiated mating by presenting her swollen rump to BILL's male's face. Poor BILL engaged in some pleasurable dalliances with this female.

      When this became known to the troop BILL's position was challenged. Lower-ranking baboons took the offensive. When this happened Papio cynocephalus (yellow baboon journalists) got very excited. Very excited indeed. You see baboons show more interest in this exchange than those between members of the same family or when a higher-ranking baboon takes the offensive. This is because confrontations between different families or rank challenges can have a wider impact on the whole troop than an internal conflict in a family or a baboon reinforcing its dominance.

      BOB is upset because the some members of the Papio cynocephalus (yellow baboon journalists) have gotten the age wrong of the female baboon who presented her swollen rump to BILL.


    3. And because they got the age of the female baboon wrong 16 years ago, we can no longer listen the Papio cynocephalus (yellow baboon journalists) as they spin exciting new stories about CHRIS, the biggest baboon of all and BOBMO, the baboon couple from down Virginny way who tried to stuff their treehouse with bananas.

    4. Anon. @ 12:09 Those Virginny Baboons did not have nearly as many bananas in their treeehouse as "our" scholarly screeching simian had in her baboon britches. And even if they did acquire those bananas
      distastefully, the rest of the troop was unharmed. There were plenty of bananas to go around.


    5. K(ray)Z, is your point that Dowd's column is not worthy of criticism TDH has leveled?

    6. "Please note that, despite the way the press has frequently covered the matter (see also Ioannidis' work), the subject matter under discussion is medical research, not science in general."

      Thank you for pointing that out 10:58. As a scientist, I found Bob's parroting of that incorrect quote far worse than "the media" constantly calling Lewinsky an intern.

    7. Yes, KZ. But "our" scholarly simian's bananas got all sweaty, then smashy from all that self-stroking.

    8. ac/ma Thank you for asking. We just don't how to answer. Was it not worthy?

      You see, BOB said Dowd's column "was discussing the way Bill Clinton engaged in oral sex with a 23-year-old federal employee in the mid-1990s."

      Despite that promising start, BOB then launched into a long discussion about a piece in which scientists are criticized in terms taken from that uniquely firm discipline, psychology. From there BOB rambled into candidate wardrobe, footwear, haircare, food preference and even sport performance. He returned to the science theme. Finally, after a long while, BOB used a literary reference to get back to Dowd.

      He titillated readers with what an implied masturbation reference to Dowd getting off to blow jobs, but tease that he is, BOB quickly went back to literary references in recent electoral history.

      We never heard a word about "the way Bill Clinton engaged in oral sex with a 23-year-old federal employee in the mid-1990s." I was looking forward the finding out whether BOB thought she did an adequate job discussing his technique. Or hers.
      Meaning the faux 23-year old federal employee's technique, not Dowd's. We already learned she was stroking herself over blow jobs, not giving them.

      But other than that I thought he did an excellent job not covering anything at all that was in Dowd's column.



    9. Anon. @ 2:29

      Let us not get too caught up on banana handling.
      Baboons are primarily herbivorous. Yet they eat insects and occasionally prey on fish, shellfish, hares, birds, vervet monkeys, and small antelopes.

      BTW, for those of you still wedded to the wild stories of alien kidnappings and anal probing tales, put yourself in our place. If you came to probe on a strange planet, who would you pick? A dull human or an exciting, colorful, swollen-rump presenting baboon?


    10. A preoccupation with poo is a symptom of mental illness or brain injury.

    11. KZ - you didn't answer the question - do you think Dowd's column was fine, mediocre, stupid or something other? - aside from TDH's excursion into analogizing faulty scientific research being slanted by preconceptions to the tendency of pundits like dowd to constantly rely on (in my view idiotic) scripts. My take (at the risk of being characterized as a "Bob fan" who slavishly accepts everything he says as gospel, and who does the same thing TDH criticizes in others, i.e. interpreting what TDH says without hard evidence) Ithought the point of his post was to make the analogy between pundits and these slanted reearch studies. Not about baboons.

    12. Speaking only of myself, I don't spend nearly as much time reading, dissecting, and worrying about Maureen Dowd as does Bob and his fan club.

      But one would wonder how the Fan Club hasn't gotten this message by now, so it must be repeated for them, since they are the only ones who think it's important.

    13. anon 6:07

      I actually spend about zero time reading, dissecting or worrying about Maureen Dowd. I do think it is sad that she is where she is. As long as she keeps churning her stuff out, I think it deserves what THD dishes out, though, unfortunately, it bores you so much.

      Out of curiosity, what do you, who has managed to avoid being brainwashed by TDH (as is the unfortunate case for a fan club member like me), read and dissect and worry about (other than the TDH)?

    14. Because I've been reading this blog since 1998, and I just can't get enough of him calling Maureen Dowd a lunatic. Like the great Boxcar Willie, Somerby keeps signing his biggest hit.

  2. OMB (The O stands for Obsessed)

    Part 1

    BOB "rushed" this post to an early Monday AM slot. About another "famous faux character, another of the invented figures."

    Did Monica Lewinsky not exist? Or is MoDo's obsession with things Lewinsky a good way to start a series taking us away from that other
    non-existent character, Mr. "Unreliable" Wildstein, whose Affair of the Cones has proven such an embarassment for our National Treasure.

    We look forward to this new hunt for "self-regarding baboons" with Lord Somerby. Cheerio!


    1. We have just been made aware that a different tribe of young baboons other than the self regarding ones at MSNBC may have been eating Wheaties rather than Cheerios, and spilled their Coca Cola in it while watching a despicable ad during the Super Bowl.

      We hope when BOB rushes his Part 2 post into cyberspace on this topic he will include this baboon outburst as well, because as all of us who follow and admire baboons know, both tribes do it.


  3. Maureen Dowd goes from attacking Clinton, to Hillary, to feminists in general. Her column reads like something Rand Paul might say. Although she seems to be criticizing him too, she is actually agreeing with him and extending his complaints. She isn't considered a liberal is she?

    1. I guess Bob considers her a "liberal" as well as Broder, because he names those two names and then says: "With a very few exceptions, your favorite career liberal writers have agreed to disappear the process we are describing over the past several decades."

      I'm still trying to get over the shock of learning that Maureen Dowd is one of my "favorite career liberal writers." It's gotta be so. Bob wouldn't lie to me.

    2. We disagree Anon. @ 11:49.

      Dowd is a liberal because BOB tells us she is.

      Dowd is not discussing Hillary, Feminists, or Paul. She was discussing the way Bill Clinton engaged in oral sex with a 23-year-old federal employee in the mid-1990s.

      She may be an older female baboon and and may also be self regarding. We just don't know. BOB does not say.


    3. According to a recent post, the blogger stated that Joan Walsh is "a liberal leader."

    4. In Liberalworld anything is possible. And in New Jersey, everything is possible, even among the unreliable acting with the best of intentions.

  4. IMHO medical research is more reliable than much other science research, because the leading medical journals require that any paper including statistical analysis must have a professional statistician among its co-authors. Given that a large percentage of medical studies are not reproducible, one can only imagine how many studies in, say psychology or climate, would not be reducible.

    1. Is there scientifice research without statistical analyses? And don't most peer review commities include a statistician?

      Most science research depends on replication - it's a key tenents of the scientific method.

    2. David, psychology doesn't require a professional statistician among authors because psychologists are trained in statistics as part of their graduate training. Physicians, even researchers, receive far less statistics and methodology training. Our undergrads (not grads) take 2 courses in statistics (one in the math dept and one upper division covering the statistics most relevant to our field). Note also that most of the statistics currently used in biomedical fields were invented by people who considered themselves psychologists (or for use in studying psychological questions). That is because variability is inherent to human behavior. So, the requirement for a professional statistician is because of the weakness of the training, not the rigorous expectations of the field of medicine. At the graduate level, psychologists take several courses, usually at least multivariate statistics and some methods courses and then learn whatever is needed for the type of research they will be doing. I took 8 quantitative courses as a grad student. Doctors don't do that.

    3. Good question, Anoymous 2:26. Better question, what happened to the Cal in David In? Did he move?
      Does he really have an H in his O?

    4. One of the doctoral psychology graduates in my cohort became an actuary when he couldn't get a tenure track job as a psychologist.

    5. AnonymousFebruary 3, 2014 at 3:36 PM -- Maybe I'm a snob or maybe I'm sticking up for my Ph.D. Bio-statistician wife. However, it's one thing to run a sophisticated statistical analysis program; it's another thing to be sure one is interpreting it properly. Statistics looks relatively easy, but there are hidden pitfalls. IMHO if someone like my wife is doing the statistical analysis, there's a better chance of avoiding some subtle error.

      AnonymousFebruary 3, 2014 at 2:26 PM -- I don't know whether or not most peer review committees include a statistician. That may be the case for medical research, but I doubt if it's the case for, say psychology or climate papers. Even when there is a statistician on the Review Committee, I don't know how much detail the statistician checks.

      Yes, replication should be a key tenet of the scientific method. That's why it's shocking that less than half of medical papers could be replicated.

    6. Do you think statistical courses at the grad level just teach you to use software? Since you know nothing about how psychologists (not clinicians) are trained, please stop maligning them.

    7. I understand it is very hard to train a psychologist. It is even harder to train a baboon.

  5. All right students on the sprawling TDH campus.

    Time for a quiz.

    Compare and contrast this post about Maureen Dowd to the last post Professor Somerby did about Maureen Dowd. It was posted January 15, 2014.

    Any students posting a video of Bill Clinton humming Boxcar Willie tunes or singing Devil With The Blue Dress will be forced to wear Bill Bradley's old shoes and bowl with Barack Obamy down in Alabammy.

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