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The Therapy Sessions
Monday, August 16, 2004
 

Oh yeah, that bias


The New York Times outdoes itself. A Yale economist says that his econometric model -which he has been using for years - (unfortunately) predicts a Bush victory.

For such blasphemy, he gets a grilling from a NYT reporter: Questions for Ray C. Fair: Bush Landslide (in Theory)!

((Reporter:)But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.

(Fair:) We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.

It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.

I will be teaching econometrics next year to undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is applied to all kinds of things....

...Are you a Republican?

I can't credibly answer that question. Using game theory in economics, you are not going to believe me when I tell you my political affiliation because I know that you know that I could be behaving strategically. If I tell you I am a Kerry supporter, how do you know that I am not lying or behaving strategically to try to put more weight on the predictions and help the Republicans?

I don't want to do game theory. I just want to know if you are a Kerry supporter.

Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am a Kerry supporter.

I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.

I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to explain voting behavior.

But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful.

It could work the other way. If Kerry supporters see that I have made this big prediction for Bush, more of them could turn out just to prove an economist wrong.

How can an editor can let such bias slip through in an interview?

"It saddens me" that you are some kind of "Republican," and even if you're not, you are helping them with your apostasy!

Unbelievable.

I don't live in Manhattan, so I can see it is very probable Bush will win in November. I think its practically a given.

But a landslide of this proportion seems a little hard to believe.


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