BREAKING: Do you understand what Nate Cohn said?


A culture of incoherence:
We're frequently puzzled by the caliber of the work we find in the New York Times.

This morning, we thought Nate Cohn's analysis piece about gerrymandering was virtually incoherent. Linda Qiu, move it on over!

Cohn's report concerns the current battle about House districts in Pennsylvania. The state's Supreme Court found that the Republican legislature had created districts which were impermisibly gerrymandered. As a result, the court devised a new congressional map, in theory for this fall's elections.

In this morning's report, Cohn was discussing those two districting plans—the original plan, created by the Republican legislature, and the current plan, created by the state Supreme Court. His report before the Upshot brand, meaning it came from the Times' most brainiac region.

Cohn starts by explaining the basis on which the original map was dumped. How do we know that the districts were impermissibly gerrymandered? In his first two grafs, he explains:
COHN (2/27/18): In the view of the majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, “perhaps the most compelling evidence” that Republicans sacrificed traditional redistricting criteria for partisan gain was a political scientist’s simulation of 500 possible congressional maps.

The Republican-drawn map was an extreme outlier compared with the simulations made by Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan, who has provided expert testimony in many redistricting cases. None of the simulations favored Republicans by anywhere near as much as the congressional map enacted in 2011, which gave the Republicans a 13-to-5 advantage. And partly on that basis, the court ruled that the map violated the state’s constitution.
Good grief! Professor Chen created 500 possible districting schemes. None of them favored the GOP as much as the map the Republican legislature adopted!

On that basis, the state Supreme Court threw out the Republican districting scheme. But uh-oh! The new map drawn by the state Supreme Court seems to be almost as bad, or so Cohn seems to say:
COHN (continuing directly): But what about the remedial map recently adopted by the court? It is not an outlier to the same extent as the Republican-drawn map. But if you look at what 2016 statewide results would have been with the new map, the overall Democratic performance arguably would have been better than in all 500 of Mr. Chen’s simulations, according to an Upshot analysis.
Say what? Already, we're somewhat confused. Cohn almost seems to have made a pair of contradictory statements.

First, he says the map adopted by the court is not an outlier to the same extent as the old Republican plan. But then, he almost seems to contradict himself—he says Democrats would arguably do better, with this new map, than they would have done with all of Professor's Chen's 500 possible maps.

It sounds like the new map favor Democrats almost as much as the previous map favored Republicans. We don't know why he says the new map isn't as big an outlier.

Already, we were puzzled. But now, as Cohn continued, it seemed to us that his work became completely incoherent:
COHN (continuing directly): One common measure of a congressional map is to look at the result of the median congressional district in the average statewide election (here, the five contests in 2016). The larger the gap between the median and the average statewide popular vote, the harder it is to win a majority of seats despite winning the popular vote. By that measure, the new map was better for the Democrats than all 500 of Mr. Chen’s simulations.
By now, we had no real idea what Cohn was talking about, and we were only four paragraphs in.

You tell us—do you have any idea how to paraphrase that highlighted statement? Do you have any idea what Cohn is talking about?

We'll admit that we do not. Indeed, we find that highlighted passage to be so opaque that it's difficult even to explain why we're puzzled. Let's start with this:

Cohn says we have to look at "the result of the median congressional district in the average statewide election." Presumably, that means we take a bunch of statewide elections in Pennsylvania and determine which district, on average, ends up in the middle of the partisan pack—midway between pro-Republican and pro-Democratic districts.

So far, pretty much so good. But then, he refers to "the five contests in 2016." They seem to be the "statewide elections" from which we're supposed to determine the median district. But what five statewide elections is he referring to?

What five statewide elections took place in Pennsylvania in 2016? Off the top of our heads, we would have thought there was only one statewide election in Pennsylvania that year—the famous election which took place in November 2016.

To what other statewide elections could Cohn be referring? Is he referring to statewide primary elections? Perhaps to statewide special elections? It's amazing that a writer would introduce so much confusion into a piece where it seems to be so unnecessary. But at this point, four paragraphs in, we were already massively puzzled.

Despite the confusion, we do come away from that paragraph with one basic impression. It sounds like the court's new map massively favors Democrats! By the common measure Cohn has tried to describe, "the new map was better for the Democrats than all 500 of Mr. Chen’s simulations." Once again, it sounds to us like the court's new map favors Democrats to the same extreme degree that the legislature's original map had favored Republicans.

If that's the way this new map works, it sounds like something is rotten in the state's Supreme Court! But Cohn doesn't seem to see how extreme his description sounds, and before too long, we're again reading this:
COHN: The Upshot analysis also helps address a more arcane matter in the debate about the new court-ordered map: why many nonpartisan analysts thought it favored Democrats, even though it seemed to score well—it wasn’t an outlier—by the measure of Mr. Chen’s analysis. The reason is simple: Most nonpartisan analysts have judged the map by today’s electoral landscape, while Mr. Chen’s analysis used elections from 2008 and 2010.
The court-ordered map "wasn't an outlier by the measure of Mr. Chen's analysis?" Haven't we read, several times, that it favored Democrats more than any of Chen's 500 possible maps?

From there, Cohn apparently goes on to try to explain himself, but by now we'd stopped reading. They only let you sit in Starbucks for at most maybe three or four hours. Instead of wrestling with Cohn any ,ore, we spent some time puzzling over the relentless weirdness of the New York Times.

Does Cohn know what he'stalking about? We will assume that he might. Having said that, we will also say this:

As journalism, his piece today is god-awful; his work defies comprehension. Are there any editors at the New York Times at all? Did such people actually think that this work could be parsed by a typical reader?

Last week, in this award-winning post, we marveled at the incompetent work which routinely comes from the pen of the Times' fact-checker, Linda Qiu, who is three years out of college. Today, Cohn's analysis piece is a masterwork of primal scream incoherence.

Meanwhile, on today's "reimagined" page A3, the Times insults its readers' intelligence, as it does every day of the week. Believe it or croak, this appears first on the list of today's "Noteworthy Facts," right at the top of the page (hard-copy editions only):
Of Interest
There are about 400 dog breeds compared with 40 cat breeds.
We sh*t you not! That was this very day's top-listed "Noteworthy Fact!"

The New York Times is the product of a very peculiar subgroup. Anthropologists say their like has rarely been seen on this earth.

Career liberal players won't tell you these things. Dearest darlings, stop and think! It simply isn't done.


  1. There was a US Senate race in 2016 as well.

    1. There were also 18 US House elections in PA in 2016.

    2. Not state-wide

  2. "Are there any editors at the New York Times at all?"

    But surely all those NYT employees must have some redeeming qualities. Superior ass-licking skill? Impressive connections? Well placed parents or sexual partners?

    You know, Chelsea Clinton, for example, got a long lucrative gig at NBC - obviously not on account of any journalistic talents... Hey, such is life.

    1. Case in point: Ivanka as special representative to Korea. Hopefully, it was just her well-placed parent, and not the sex stuff, that got her the job.

    2. More good news from the "drain the swamp" files:

      Foreign officials discussed manipulating Kushner via his business arrangements, U.S. officials say

    3. Chelsea Clinton has a masters degree in international relations, same preparation as Rachel Maddow, same school too.

    4. Mao's got his wish. The United States (government and and people) is on the White House lawn with a sign that says "For Sale".

  3. "Does Cohn know what he'stalking about? We will assume that he might."

    But "we" won't actually study the whole concept of drawing congressional districts and gerrymandering. It is a somewhat complicated topic, so it might be a head-scratcher to an impatient philosophy major with a desire to mock journalists for their opacity rather than try to study the issue and give us a well-reasoned critique of the writer's argument.

    Just to note a couple of things: Cohn links to a piece in "Wired" that goes a bit more in depth about the simulation methodology, where it explains the (as the Wired article puts it) "well-known metric called the median versus mean test."
    This is a statistical concept, which, although not arcane, may give Howler bloggers a bit of difficulty. And no, the Wired article does not define nor compare and contrast the terms "mean" and "median", imagining that an interested reader might learn a little something on her own, and not expect every Wired article containing statistical concepts to include a remedial course in statistics as part of its discussion.

    Also Somerby, as if puzzled by the whole concept of gerrymandering, seems to misunderstand that the whole point is about Congressional districts and hence congressional representation, and does not affect the outcome of a Presidential election.

    Finally, it is important to note that it is Somerby who is confused, and not Cohn. Cohn cites apparent contradictions, but then says this:

    "Over all, the new court-ordered map comes very close to achieving partisan symmetry in an evenly divided state. The seeming contradiction between the analysis based on partisan symmetry and one based on simulated nonpartisan congressional districts gets at the heart of what may be the next big debate in gerrymandering: whether nonpartisan maps should strive for partisan symmetry, or whether they should try to avoid political considerations altogether."

  4. Such wilfull ignorance on the part of the blogger is astounding. More astounding still is his public admission of said ignorance.

  5. Somerby probably spent more time thinking about that Noteworthy Fact than he did about re-districting.

  6. There were five statewide races in Pennsylvania in 2016 Bob. Five. There is no need to list them.

    If I were going to go on a rant like you did, I would research it before I revealed my ignorance to my dwindling audience.

  7. Cohn's article has a very clear diagram that explains why the Court drawn map is not as much of an outlier as the R map. Gerrymandering is a difficult issue, but Bob has no interest in analyzing difficult issues. Bob's sole focus is to defend Trump with every breath in his body, attack liberals and defend Trump's associates. Somerby should just change his blog's name from Daily Howler to Daily Affirmation, and come out as the Trump worshipper that he has become.

    Oh, and Somerby's gripe about the NYT's mentioning dogs ? Perhaps it was to indicate that Somerby has now become Trump's pet lapdog ?

  8. 'Off the top of our heads, we would have thought there was only one statewide election in Pennsylvania that year—the famous election which took place in November 2016.'

    Somerby, it seems you are speaking out of the other end , not out of the top of your head. It takes 3 minutes of googling to find the 5 statewide elections.

    'Did such people actually think that this work could be parsed by a typical reader?'

    They probably did. However, they did not expect an atypical reader - a brain-damaged near Fifth Columnist who pretends to be a liberal, and likes to spend his time attacking perfectly decent articles because he is after all, a Trump worshipper (or should that be worshipper?)