Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sowell on Studies...

Thomas Sowell.comI read a lot of online columns and articles, and there is definitely a “bang-for-the-buck” effect that draws me to certain authors over others… or at least more frequently.

Sometimes I’ll find outstanding, intelligent and thoughtful articles that just take more to get through. Some of that is certainly that they brush into areas that I may not be as familiar with, but it’s also that their writing isn’t as simple as it can be to get the same point across.

I have to say, that of all the writers I’ve come across, Thomas Sowell is consistently at the very top of the list when it comes to best value. He’s unbelievably easy to read, and always delivers tremendous and insightful arguments... simply.

Here is his latest effort, which happens to come in three parts, is "Studies Prove" and discusses how a healthy scepticism is needed when hearing results of seemingly legitimate studies.

Part I:
It was a valuable experience so early in my career to learn that what "studies prove" is often whatever those who did the studies wanted to prove. Labor Department studies "prove" whatever serves the interest of the Labor Department, just as Agriculture Department studies "prove" whatever serves the Department of Agriculture's interests.

It is the same story on the other side of the Atlantic, where a new book about Britain's criminal justice system exposes the fraudulent methods used to generate statistics about the "success" of various programs of alternatives to imprisonment. The book is titled "A Land Fit for Criminals" by David Fraser.

The numbers may be accurate but the definition of "success" makes them meaningless. When a criminal is put on probation and the probation is not revoked for a violation, that is "success."
Part II:
Nobody can afford the time to check out every claim of what "studies prove." Even with the help of outstanding research assistants, I can only check out some.

However, the big television and print media have ample financial resources to check out claims before they present them to the public as "news." But when "60 Minutes" didn't bother before basing a story about President Bush's national guard service on a forged document, do not look for a lot of zeal for facts when that could kill a juicy story or the political spin accompanying it.

Let's face it. There is not much pay-off to checking original sources.
Part III:
During the same era I was also researching academically successful black schools. I flew across the country to try to get data on one school, talked with board of education officials, jumped through bureaucratic hoops -- and, after all this was done and the dust settled, I still did not get to see one statistic.

Why not? Think about it. Education officials have developed explanations for why they cannot educate black children. For me to write something publicizing outstanding academic results in this particular black school would be to open a political can of worms, leading people to ask why the other schools can't do the same.

Education bureaucrats decided to keep that can sealed.
Also, a glimmer of hope on the minimum wage debate.

Here's a recent tidbit from Newsbusters on a Senate study.

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