SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2021
But also, senseless work: This morning, the major newspapers are full of senseless essays, senseless reports, senseless statements and questions.
Many masquerade as good sense. Our discourse tends to be like that.
Our papers are full of senseless work. For one example, try this:
According to today's New York Times, Brad Wilcox, Hal Boyd and Wendy Wang "are researchers and writers on family life."
Not long ago, these researchers decided to conduct research about why (self-identified) conservatives are more likely to say they're happy than are (self-identified) liberals.
For the record, is that basic premise true? Are (self-identified) conservatives more like to say they're happy than (self-identified) liberals?
Somewhat sensibly, the researchers conducted a (type of) survey. Respondents were allowed to rate themselves as "very happy," or as "pretty happy," or as "not too happy."
Respondents were given those three choices. The researchers report these results:
Reponses from conservative respondents:
Very happy or pretty happy: 79%
Not too happy: 21%
Reponses from liberal respondents:
Very happy or pretty happy: 72%
Not too happy: 28%
Especially given the various sources of fuzziness involved in this research, do you spot a major difference lurking in those responses?
We don't see one either! That said, the researchers rode those data to a guest essay which appears in today's New York Times under this fatuous headline:
How Liberals Can Be Happier
Perhaps for perfectly sensible reasons, no comments were allowed.
In the guest essay, the researchers seek to explain the phenomenon they describe as "the conservative-liberal happiness gap." Their conclusion appears in this passage:
RESEARCHERS THREE (11/27/21): This gap is not explained by socioeconomic differences in income, race, age and gender between the two groups. But once we control for marriage, parenthood, family satisfaction, religious attendance and community satisfaction, the ideological gap in happiness disappears.
Surprising! Respondents who expressed dissatisfaction with their families (and with their communities) were more likely to be "not too happy!"
Meanwhile, how much of that (rather modest) happiness gap is (perhaps) "explained" by such factors as income, race, age and gender? The researchers don't say.
This essay is, at heart, a statistical non-event in search of a (possibly preconceived) ideological explanation. Would anyone but the New York Times be dumb enough to publish such work?
The researchers may be completely sincere. But if Wilcox, Boyd and Wang are "researchers and writers on family life," who are they "researchers and writers" for?
The New York Times doesn't say. The answer turns out to be this:
Wilcox and Wang are research fellows at The Institute for Family Life, an entity whose stated "mission" is "to strengthen marriage and family life." (That's a perfectly worthwhile goal.)
Boyd doesn't seem to be a researcher at all. As it turns out, he's the executive editor of Deseret National, part of Salt Lake City's Deseret News. According to the leading authority on the paper, "the editorial tone of the Deseret News is usually described as moderate to conservative, and is often assumed to reflect the values of its owner, the LDS Church."
For the record, there's nothing wrong with reflecting the values of the LDS Church. Indeed, it's our impression that the church is generally associated with an above-average family culture.
There's nothing wrong with the values which seem to be held by Wilcox, Boyd and Wang. That doesn't mean that their subsequent work will make any real sense, and today's guest essay strikes us as basically fatuous—as an explanation in search of something which needs to be explained.
Who but the New York Times would publish such manifest piddle? In fairness, one thinks of the Washington Post, which published the recent column by Kate Cohen which appeared beneath this hopeless headline:
Parents think they know what is best for schools. But they often don’t.
This column was Cohen's attempt to react to the recent flap in Virginia about parental involvement in schools. That said, riddle us this:
Who but Cohen would have realized that parents will "often" not know what's best for schools? That parents will "often" (or perhaps sometimes) be wrong in their various judgments?
Who but Cohen would understand that? Based upon this rare insight, Cohen states her conclusion:
COHEN (11/24/21): Parents are pretty good at fooling ourselves. Which is exactly why we shouldn’t be in charge of our children’s education.
That’s right, I agree with the statement Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe made in a late-September debate, though it’s been dubbed a “gaffe” and a “blunder”: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Of course we shouldn’t!
Someone with real expertise should keep up with how many planets there are and how many genders, with the best way to do long division and to talk about race. Someone trained to develop curriculum standards and choose textbooks should keep revising our understanding of U.S. history. Not me!
According to Cohen, parents shouldn't be in charge of their children's education. Any questions which may arise should be left to the experts—to people who are experts on how many planets there are, but also on "the best way to talk about race."
Our major newspapers are clogged with foolishness every day of the week. That includes the papers which are designed to appeal to our high-IQ tribe.
This morning, a more serious questions appears in the Washington Post, courtesy of Colbert King:
What explains the fact that some people are willing to shoot and kill other people?
King asks that serious question today. Next week, as we discuss events in Kenosha and the Rittenhouse trial, questions like that will arise.
That essay in the Times was pretty sad. So was the column by Cohen.
The Times and the Post didn't understand that. Our question:
Should journalists be in charge of our nation's newspapers? Or should we turn the task over to experts—and if so, where could we find them?