Monday, July 4, 2016

The Genius of Simkovic & McIntyre (Part I)

Happy 4th.  The LSTC is taking a sabbatical of sorts in July.  In the meantime, please enjoy some re-cycled, but previously unpublished, posts with critical praise for Simkovic & McIntyre's Economic Value from the blog's draft archives with slight editing.

 At some point in his career, prior even to attaining the age of thirty, long before his most immortal songs were recorded, and before Jamie Foxx was even born, Ray Charles came to have "Genius" as a nickname for his synthesis of what were then otherwise segregated musical styles.  It stuck on some level beyond a transparent marketing gimmick and became reflected in numerous album titles up through the man's death over forty years later.

Because Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre have similarly brought a genius-like revolutionary synthesis of academic demagoguery and lousy statistics, it should be appropriate that their hits receive similar appellation.

Consider Economic Value.  Somehow, this paper still manages to be cited with seriousness and belief that the conclusions made therein are valid, scientific, and even worthy of discussion.

But science and statistics do not follow the Rules of Evidence.  There is either good science or bad science.  Bad science does not become "admissible" because it looks like good science enough to sneak past a judge (or, in this case, a pool of cronies).  Once you hit "invalid" or "bad," you can - and should - disregard the conclusions.  Bad science is trash.  A thousand bags of trash do not "contribute to the academic discourse" so much as they attract flies and maggots.

Simkovic & McIntyre's research is wrong.  Use whatever word you please:  invalid, erroneous, statistically-unsupported, flawed, etc.  Wrong is the most accessible term.  This doesn't necessarily mean their calculations are wrong or that their politics are wrong or that they did not copy data correctly, but it does mean that the research does not offer viable, usable conclusions and should be as disregarded as-if I were to write "x + y = hypodermic unicorns" or begin proclaiming new-Earth creationism as the one true scientific truth.

The people who promote Economic Value and its ilk want the evidence admissible and there to be a liberal arts and/or courtroom-style debate between polished experts.  In such a manner, fatal flaws can be excused with attacks on the opposition and a reference to numbers and statistical concepts that unfortunately bewilder many lawyers and legal commentators like a Cro-Magnon man given a microwave oven.

All the persuasive writing courses in the world cannot make bad science into good science.

Good science follows established protocols.  In the realm of statistics, there needs to be a well-defined population that's included or excluded from study.  Ideally, any sampling from that population is random and representative.  Whether a study is empirical like most social sciences research or prospective like a clinical trial, variables (the particular traits being studied) should be properly isolated using controls and accounting for potentially conflicting variables.

Although the practical application of statistics can be remarkably complicated, the basic concepts of statistics are fairly simple and intuitive - basically, we want to compare apples to apples and make sure that any conclusions we draw about apples are as sound as possible.

In Economic Value, Simkovic & McIntyre study an imprecise population with a too-small, non-representative sample compared to the wrong control group while ignoring other research/conflicting variables and alternative explanations for their results.

In other words, apples taste sweeter than orange golf balls because apple seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide.

Bad science is bad science.  Nonetheless, Simkovic & McIntyre have not only managed to peddle bad science thinly veiling aims of academic politics, but have it published and repeated across the legal education industry based on little more than it appears to "contribute" to the scholarly "debate" about the value of the law school.

Any dork with Excel can make bad statistics.  But to package them in such a way that otherwise intelligent-on-paper people look past fatal flaws and accept it as anything other than a research project that should've been dropped in the toilet with the morning deuce?

That's genius.  In the coming posts, the LSTC will explore the beauty of this genius applied on various levels.

1 comment:

  1. Daubert shwabert.

    Or, "Truth? What is truth?"

    Or, how does Simkovic sleep?