NO STATISTICS NEED APPLY: The Times tries to report the gender wage gap!


Part 2—Big newspaper tries and fails:
We do love our phony statistics!

Let’s put that a slightly different way. Sometimes, if it weren’t for the phony statistics, we’d have no statistics at all!

This Sunday, we offered these bromides to the analysts after a very rough week. Consider what happened on Saturday morning, when we let them enjoy their weekly political cartoons, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Right at the top of the Post’s op-ed page sat the latest four-panel effort by the Boston Globe’s hilarious Dan Wasserman.

At the Boston Globe site, the hilarious effort bears this headline: “Woman on $20 bill?”

Could a woman be pictured on the twenty? Wasserman ends with a thoughtful observation: You could put a woman on the $20 bill. “But it would only be worth $15.40!”

Hilariously, Wasserman had worked with a treasured statistic. According to this treasured statistic, women are paid 77 cents on the dollar, compared to men, for doing the same or equal work.

Can we talk? No one who works in the field thinks that’s a valid statistic. But we pseudo-liberals love the claim. We just love to repeat it.

Good old Wasserman! He applied the bogus statistic, then ran his cartoon in the Globe. The Washington Post liked it so much they put it at the top of their weekly political cartoons, where our young analysts saw it.

What gives our nation's bogus statistics so much juice? We’ll offer two explanations:

For obvious reasons, nitwits within the various tribes love to build their tribal claims around embellished statistics. Meanwhile, “journalists” at our leading newspapers can’t work with statistics at all.

Our “journalists” can’t handle statistics! Consider the terrible, horrible news report which appeared in Wednesday’s New York Times.

The analysts were hopeful as they read the hard-copy headline:

“Longtime Nursing Pay Gap Hasn’t Budged, Study Says”

Interesting, they loudly exclaimed. They pictured themselves getting the dope on some aspect of the gender pay gap.

Momentarily, they forgot! They forgot what frequently happens when reporters at the Times try to deal with the latest study concerning some important aspect of American life!

In this case, it happened again! Reporter Catherine Saint Louis and her unnamed editor produced a thoroughly bungled analysis of a new study.

It would be hard to be more clueless than Saint Louis and her unnamed editor were. But as we’ll be noting all week, this is what happens when the Times attempts to report key statistics.

Uh-oh! By the time they’d read just two paragraphs, the analysts were worried. Already, Saint Louis and her editor had employed a suspiciously fuzzy term:
SAINT LOUIS (3/25/15): Longtime Nursing Pay Gap Hasn’t Budged, Study Says

Male nurses make $5,100 more on average per year than female colleagues in similar positions,
researchers reported on Tuesday.

The new analysis, which included data on more than 290,000 registered nurses, also found that the pay gap had not narrowed within workplace settings and specialties from 1988 to 2013. The new study is the first to have measured gender disparities in pay among nurses over time.
“In similar positions?” What did that formulation mean? Already, the analysts thought they saw doom approaching.

Let’s understand—everyone knows that women, on average, earn smaller annual incomes than men in virtually every field. The famous “77 cents on the dollar” statistic—it’s already outdated, but still in wide use—involved a comparison of annual incomes for all full-time workers, defined as people working 35 hours per week or more.

Among those two groups, women were earning 77 percent as much as men, on average, over the course of a year. But that was before the statistics were adjusted for such factors as total hours worked per week (on average, men worked more hours), years of seniority and type of position.

When such adjustments were made, the difference in pay was much smaller. Every expert understands this fact, whatever their political orientation. You just don’t hear it much on cable! Or in other types of cartoons!

As she started her report, Saint Louis reported that male nurses “in similar positions” earn more on an annual basis. Instant problems:

She presented a dollar amount without converting it to a percentage. She didn’t specify the statistical adjustments which may or may not have been made.

Concerning statistical adjustments, was some part of that pay differential due to different hours of work per week? Way far down in paragraphs 9-11, she finally offered this:
SAINT LOUIS: The study did not address reasons underpinning the persistent gap. There could be several reasons, Dr. Muench said: Men may be better negotiators, for instance, or perhaps women more often leave the work force to raise children. Women may have a tougher time getting promoted, she said.

“A workplace may offer a bit more to the men in order to diversify,” said Diana Mason, a professor of nursing at Hunter College of The City University of New York and former editor of The American Journal of Nursing.

Still, it is possible that women earn less because of a “lingering bias that a man is more of an expert because he’s a man,” she said.
The study did not address reasons underpinning the gap, Saint Louis now wrote. And not only that:

“Women more often leave the work force to raise children?” That suggested that the study was comparing the annual incomes of men and women with different levels of seniority.

“Women may have a tougher time getting promoted?” That suggested that the study was comparing annual income of men and women who were actually holding different types of positions.

In the end, the journalistic incompetence here is hard to believe. Let’s consider those two basic problems:

Who needs percentages: The gender wage gap is normally discussed in terms of percentages. All over these United States, we the people have had that “77 percent” statistic drummed into our heads. That said, Saint Louis never converted the difference in income among nurses into a percentage.

That $5,100 difference in income sounds like a lot—and it is! That said, it doesn’t come anywhere near the statistical difference commonly cited on a percentage basis.

According to Wasserman’s bogus statistic, women are paid 23 percent less than men. But based on income data which appear in the study, that $5,100 seems to represent something like seven percent less income for women in this field. Though we can’t be entirely sure about that, due to the Times’ weak reporting.

Saint Louis did a long report. Given the conventional way this topic is discussed, she and her unnamed editor should have thrown in a percentage.

Who needs adjustments: That $5,100 difference in income is still a large amount. To what extent does it represent less pay for the same work?

Amazingly, Saint Louis and her editor never really attempt to settle this question. At first, her use of the term “in similar positions” suggested to many readers (you can see them in comments) that she was talking about amounts of pay “for the same or equal work.”

Later, though, she seemed to say that the study didn’t make such adjustments. Here’s where this gets really sad:

In comments, many commenters said they had clicked to the study. Most of the study lies behind a substantial pay wall. But in one portion which is visible, the study seems to suggest that it did adjust for some standard factors at some point.

Or something! Who can tell?
JAMA STUDY (3/24/15): Using ordinary least-squares regression and employment information in the NSSRN, we assessed how much of the annual salary differences could be accounted for by demographic factors, work hours, experience, work setting, clinical specialty, job position, survey year, state of residence, and other factors...
The researchers say they assessed “how much of the annual salary differences” could be accounted for by such factors as “work hours, experience [and] job position.”

Does that mean that the $5,100 was the raw difference in average income? Does that mean that adjustments were later made on the basis of such factors as “hours worked?”

We don’t have the slightest idea. In even a slightly rational world, that’s the sort of thing the New York Times would have explained in its news report!

The gender wage gap has become a battle cry for us on the pseudo-left. We love to repeat our bogus statistic, just as pseudo-conservatives have always loved to advance their own tribe’s bogus claims.

Into the fray stepped the New York Times. The analysts were gnashing their teeth as they struggled with the paper's report.

“Can’t anyone here play this game?” one analyst even asked.

Last Wednesday, this news report drove the analysts wild. The very next day, the youngsters would come to despair over the way the Times handled a striking statistic about another high-profile topic—the rate of police shootings by race.

How many shootings is just about right? We will admit that we were struck by what the New York Times said.

Tomorrow: Shootings by race. Still coming:

Doctored statistics about math achievement. Also, those peculiar dueling statistics concerning campus rape! With brief side trips to health care spending! Also, Mitt Romney’s tax rate!

“Can anyone here play this game?” We’d call the answer surprising but obvious.

Supplemental: College student addresses the Times!

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2015

Paging noble Nestor:
Right there in yesterday’s Sunday Review, the New York Times published seven letters about a piece from the week before—Judith Shulevitz’s essay about “safe spaces” in college.

As we noted this morning, two letters clobbered These Kids Today for their alleged fear of “scary ideas.” In four other letters, college professors defended These Kids and their own professorial practices.

Our view? In principle, there’s nothing wrong with turning classrooms into “safe spaces” for college students who may have therapeutic issues—far from it. This can be overdone, of course, just like anything else can.

That said, the seventh letter in the Times came from an actual college student—from one of These Kids Today! We’ll always defend the younger people until they go cataclysmically wrong. That said, we experienced serious 60s flashbacks as we read this student’s words.

You say you want a revolution? Here’s what the student said:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (3/29/15): Judith Shulevitz’s article about safe spaces on college campuses is a direct assault on my generation and what we find important. My generation has embraced the ideas of safe spaces and safe language. Without these, many victims of trauma or discrimination would be excluded from campus discussions that seek to cultivate and strengthen campus intellectual life. Truly open-minded intellectual growth desperately needs the participation of these groups.

Not all ideas are created equal. Some ought to be unreservedly condemned; consideration of such ideas is not at all helpful in bolstering campus intellectual life. The current generation of college students has denied validity to the failed ideas of the past. We have embraced the knowledge and empathy of the present. We are shaping the wisdom of the future.
We agree with the spirit of that first paragraph, although we’d warn any young person against believing that he belongs to a “generation” in which all the other people his age think the same way he does.

They don’t! Unless he develops strong skills of persuasion, most of them never will.

That said, our 60s flashback began as we read that second paragraph. Back in the day, many members of our generation thought we had debunked “the failed ideas of the past,” that we were effortlessly “shaping the wisdom of the future.”

Doggone it, students! The notion that you’re debunking the failed ideas of the past is one of the failed ideas of the past! Meanwhile, the potential downside to “safe space” thinking begins to appear in this familiar formulation:

“Not all ideas are created equal. Some ought to be unreservedly condemned; consideration of such ideas is not at all helpful in bolstering campus intellectual life.”

Should some ideas be “unreservedly condemned?” Presumably, yes! But who will decide which ideas must be banished? Who will decide which ideas can’t be considered—can play no valid, helpful role in campus intellectual life?

When young people start thinking this way, they could probably use a bit of perspective from their professors and college presidents. In a similar way, headstrong Diomedes once needed the counsel of noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, “who always gave the best advice.”

Are professors and presidents playing this role on These College Campuses Today? Doggone it! All too often, these august authority figures seem to be egging These Kids Today on!

Tomorrow: Back to the work of the Times

NO STATISTICS NEED APPLY: The New York Times can’t handle stats!

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2015

Part 1—A fiery professor’s response:
Last Sunday, March 22, the New York Times ran a somewhat snarky opinion piece about These Kids Today—more specifically, about their attitude toward “safe spaces.”

The piece was written by Judith Shulevitz. Last Thursday, we discussed the part of the essay which concerned a debate at Brown about sexual assault on college campuses.

Yesterday, that same New York Times published seven letters about the Shulevitz piece. One of the letters came from a professor at Wisconsin’s Madison campus.

For us, that letter capped a week in which we puzzled about the New York Times’ puzzling use of statistics, and about our nation’s highly tribalized pseudo-debates.

A range of reactions and views were expressed in yesterday’s letters. This afternoon, we’ll look at one letter which actually came from one of These Kids Today!

On balance, we thought that student’s approach was unwise—but then, he’s still a college student! The other six letters pretty much broke down as follows:

Two of the letters scolded These Kids Today. More specifically, students were scolded for their alleged desire to be shielded from unwelcome ideas.

The other four letters came from college professors. As a general matter, they defended the practices Shulevitz had criticized.

Students with therapeutic issues deserve to be treated with care, these professors said—and yes, we’re paraphrasing.

As we noted last week, we agree with that position as a general matter. But then too, there was the fiery letter from the Wisconsin professor.

We thought that letter deserved review. As we read it, we pictured the way such letters might serve the political interests of Wisconsin’s Governor Walker, who wants to cut state funding to the state’s university system.

We also puzzled about the letter’s one statistical claim. It called to mind our puzzling, ongoing non-debate about the rate of sexual assault on the nation’s campuses:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (3/29/15): I am dismayed by Judith Shulevitz’s belittling response to student trauma. I teach an undergraduate class on “Sexualities and Race.” We discuss challenging issues like campus rape, human trafficking, pornography and sex work. “Scary ideas” certainly. Tragically, for some students these ideas are also scary realities. My students engage these issues with intellectual rigor and great courage. Yes, I give trigger warnings, and try to make my class a safe space.

Five students in my class were recently raped. One sits at the back so she has walls behind her, close to the door in case panic overwhelms her. I wonder how Ms. Shulevitz would deal with a student triggered into a major panic attack. Or a student whose friend was murdered by a cop. Making cheap jibes at a safe room with “cookies” and “Play-Doh” infantilizes the real-life traumas these students face too young, and belittles their right to face these intellectual and personal challenges in safe ways.

Madison, Wis.

The writer is a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
We agree with some of the things Professor McClintock said.

Whatever one thinks of the term itself, there’s no reason why a professor shouldn’t try to make her class a “safe place” for students. Professorial discretion may help create classrooms in which students with therapeutic issues can play fuller roles.

But wait—there’s more agreement! Like the professor, we thought Shulevitz may have laid it on a bit thick concerning the Play-Doh and the cookies in the “safe spaces” which were created at Brown. (And the videotape of the puppies!)

This doesn’t mean that the therapeutic/”safe space” approach can’t be overdone in particular instances. Obviously, this approach can be poorly executed, just like everything else.

This brings us to the professor’s statement about a class she’s currently teaching. It calls to mind our nation’s ongoing pseudo-discussion of sexual assault on campus.

In the highlighted passage, the professor states that five students in her “Sexualities and Race” class “were recently raped.” She also asks how a professor should deal with “a student whose friend was murdered by a cop,” although she doesn’t claim that she currently faces this problem.

Let’s start with that second possible circumstance.

We were struck by the heroic language affected by this professor. Beyond that, we thought we may have heard cheering from Walker’s political staff.

The professor asks how she should deal with “a student whose friend was murdered by a cop.” For starters, we would suggest that she make sure that the “murder” has been reported. But we’d also suggest that she give some thought to her fiery language.

Professor McClintock plays the hero with this fiery language. On a political basis, she also plays into conservative hands.

How many students at Wisconsin have had a friend “murdered by a cop?” We have no idea. But we’ll guess the number is small.

That said, our fiery professors have been heroically tossing that language around in the past several years. On campus, their daring behavior may turn them into heroes.

In the wider political world, this language has sometimes blown up in our tribe’s face—although our most heroic professors will rarely acknowledge such facts.

Pols like Walker thanks the gods for such exciting language. It makes it easy to tell a state’s voters that Our Kids Today are in the hands of These Professors Today—that the state’s exciting professors are pushing “agendas” on campus.

Heroic professors of this type may serve as a curse on progressive interests. This brings us the professor’s factual claim—the statement that five of her students “were recently raped.”

Needless to say, we have no way of knowing if this statement is accurate. We aren’t sure how the professor herself could know that this statement is true, although everything is possible.

That said, university postings seem to show that the class in question contains only 36 students. This calls to mind one of our nation’s puzzling non-debates and the statistical claims which fuel it.

Is a “rape crisis” occurring on college campuses? Over here in the liberal world, we keep saying yes.

Last year, Rolling Stone decided to offer the perfect example. Its astounding non-journalistic behavior quickly blew up in its face.

That said, dueling statistics are floating around about the rate of sexual assault on our college campuses. Here’s the problem:

These dueling statistics seem to paint wildly divergent portraits of the basic facts. And uh-oh! To all appearances, major newspapers like the New York Times simply aren’t up to the task of dealing with such statistics.

Last week, the Times floundered badly in several important high-profile areas:

On Wednesday, Catherine Saint Louis (and her editor) did a miserable job with some new statistics about the gender wage gap. Many commenters noted the problems with this news report.

On Tuesday, Matt Apuzzo presented some fascinating new statistics about police shootings in Philadelphia. At one point, though, he offered a rather strange assessment of one of those new statistics—and he failed to note the way his new statistics connect to recent high-profile discussions about police behavior in Ferguson.

Last Sunday, Martin and Haberman made a standard ridiculous claim about school closings in Chicago. Yesterday, Fareed Zakaria adopted a standard statistical ploy about the state of the nation’s schools, in a typically underfed piece for the Washington Post.

We were especially struck by the Times’ reports about the gender wage gap and about police shootings. We were also struck by Professor McClintock’s one statistical claim.

That said:

In one area after another, the nation’s Potemkin public discourse is riddled with puzzling statistical claims—about arrests and shootings by police; about sexual assault on campus; about achievement in public schools; about the gender wage gap.

In other high-profile debates, the most fundamental statistics are constantly going AWOL.

In all these areas, the assessment of basic statistical claims seem to be well beyond the skill level of our most famous newspapers. In part as a result, the nation’s different tribal groups just keep advancing their favorite tribal claims.

All too often, in recent years, the tribal group has been us!

Why can’t the New York Times do a better job with basic statistical claims? To what extent does the Times simply defer to preferred story lines?

To what extent do our fiery professors make themselves heroes while helping politicians like Walker? Is this anything like the gigantic fail by the Stone?

We’ll be asking these questions all week! By the end of the week, we’ll even look at the dueling claims about the rate of assault on campus—and about the large percentage of students who don’t even know they’ve been raped!

Our craziest claims used to come from the right. At this point, is there any chance that The Crazy is coming from us? And when The Crazy comes from us, do we undermine liberal interests?

Later today: The student’s letter

Supplemental: Mount O’Donnell’s greatest eruptions!


When Dorchester street toughs explode:
In recent months, Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly have been called on the carpet for past misstatements.

Bill’s wild claims tend to be standard-issue self-promotional bluster. Brian’s claims, which have sometimes been quite a bit weirder, tend to bring the air of suffering and martyrdom in.

Did Lawrence O’Donnell get his due as those claims were being examined? It seems to us that Lawrence’s claim to have grown us as a Dorchester street tough put him right up there in the Bill-and-Brian class.

This thought came to mind when the analysts completed a recent research assignment. “List Mount O’Donnell’s greatest eruptions,” the assiduous youngsters were told.

The youngsters showed us three eruptions from their volcano files. In perhaps his craziest eruption, Lawrence challenged one of Mitt Romney’s sons to a fight—and he delivered his lengthy challenge in Dorchester accent and argot!

We’ll save that strange eruption for last. Below, we give you videotape of three of the greatest eruptions:

Lawrence swims after the Swift Boats: Lawrence’s most famous eruption occurred in late October 2004. Sadly, many liberals praised him for it.

This 11-minute eruption spewed lava all over John O’Neill, head of the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” group which had been attacking Candidate Kerry. Howard Kurtz described some of the action in the Washington Post:
KURTZ (11/1/04): When Swift Boat Veterans author John O'Neill appeared on "Scarborough Country" two weeks ago, MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell ripped into him and his "disgusting, lying book."

O'Donnell, a Democrat and "West Wing" writer, repeatedly interrupted O'Neill with his literary critique: "That's a lie, John O'Neill. Keep lying. It's all you do." And: "That's a lie. It's another lie. That's a lie." And: "You lie in that book endlessly." And: "You're just lying about it." And: "You're totally afraid of the truth."

Undeterred when O'Neill accused him of lying, O'Donnell kept firing: "You have no standards, John O'Neill, as an author. And you know it. It's a pack of lies. You are unfit to publish." And: "He just spews out lies." Not to mention: "I just hate the lies of John O'Neill." Oh, and there was: "He's been a liar for 35 years."
Pat Buchanan was guest host in Scarborough Country that night. Midway through this famous eruption, he took a commercial break, hoping that cable firefighters could possibly put Lawrence out.

No such luck! After the break, Mount O’Donnell erupted again, producing a predictable outcome:
KURTZ (continuing directly): MSNBC said in a statement that O'Donnell "crossed a line. MSNBC believes he was disrespectful to you, the viewer, and that his insults did nothing to forward the debate or the understanding of a very critical issue. We have spoken to Lawrence O'Donnell, and he agrees."

Except that O'Donnell, who didn't know the statement was coming, doesn't agree. He was "too loud," he admits, in what was "an uncontrollable outburst on my part," and "my manner was everything I hate about cable TV shouting matches." But, O'Donnell says, "I don't apologize for a single word that I said...People have been coming out of the woodwork to tell me how great they thought it was. There's a big 'mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore' contingent out there on this subject that feels I was giving voice to their position.”
Thoughtfully, Lawrence acknowledged that he had engaged in “an uncontrollable outburst,” but he stood by the things he had said. Liberals had been “coming out of the woodwork,” he insultingly said, to tell him how great he had been.

Had Lawrence O’Donnell really been great in his uncontrollable outburst? Actually, no, he had not. His outburst occurred on October 22, long after clarification of any claims was likely to do much good.

Beyond that, uncontrollable outbursts tend to have perverse effects. To the undecided voter, they tend to make the uncontrollable party look like the crazy guy in the room.

Lawrence made O’Neill a victim. After that, he was disappeared from MSNBC for the next several months.

In fairness, the outburst did produce great tape. To get the flavor of this eruption, you can just click here.

You can smell the lava and feel the ash as the smoldering mountain explodes. That said, we were saddened when liberals praised Lawrence for his great eruption. Here’s why:

Here at THE HOWLER, we had spent a lot of time on the 35-year-old incidents at issue in the Swift Boat attacks. We’re going to guess that Lawrence pretty much hadn’t.

Because of his standing, Lawrence could have had an article published about these damaging attacks. It’s possible that a high-profile analysis piece of that type could have helped Candidate Kerry.

There was one problem with that approach—it would have required work on Lawrence’s part. Perhaps for that reason, Lawrence waited until late October, then exploded on the air.

Lawrence pursues the Mormons: At various times, Lawrence has had to apologize for his eruptions concerning the Mormon faith. In this tape from the McLaughlin Group in 2007, you’ll see Lawrence making Pat Buchanan look like the sensible one again.

For videotape of the fuller segment, click here.

In 2012, Lawrence erupted about the Mormons again, this time on his own MSNBC program. Eight days later, he apologized on the air, acknowledging that he had made inaccurate statements about Mormon history.

We won’t even try to explain what was wrong with these eruptions, which often included factual misstatements. In our opinion, neighborhood types like O’Donnell and Dowd performed good imitations of religious bigots during the two Romney runs.

Boston street tough seeks fight: For our money, the greatest eruption occurred in 2012, when Lawrence challenged Taggart Romney to a fight. The greatness lay in Lawrence’s use of a Dorchester accent during his choreographed invitation.

By way of background, “Dorchester chic” has gained a substantial toehold in Hollywood, thanks to such films as Good Will Hunting. For unknown reasons, Lawrence seems to think that he emerged from that roughhouse Boston subculture.

Did Lawrence grow up as a street tough? As best we can tell, his persistent insinuation to this effect ranks with the greatest crazy misstatements of O’Reilly and Williams. And yet, he rarely seems to get credit for being as nutty as they are!

To watch Lawrence go all Dorchester on us, just click here, then move ahead to 9:25. And yes, that’s a Dorchester accent he intermittently brandishes.

The lunacy starts as shown below. Soon, Lawrence walks out from behind his desk, gesturing at the hated Taggart, who had made an ever-so-slightly dumb offhand remark:
O’DONNELL (10/18/12): OK, Taggart, let’s have a little talk, just you and me, yoooou—

[angrily draws out the word]

When I hear you talk about taking a swing and taking punches, why do I get the feeling that you’ve never actually taken a punch? Or thrown a punch?

I didn’t have that luxury in the part of Boston that I grew up in.
But in your rich, suburban Boston life, with your father filling a $100 million trust fund for ya, I don’t know. I just get the feeling that things were kind of different for you.

Now, I know you’ve got a lot, a lot to be pissed off at these days, starting with the name “Taggart,” which you got every right to be wicked pissed off at for every day of the 42 years of your life. So let me help you try to deal with all this aggression you’re feelin’ right now...
The invitation to fight follows as Lawrence walks out from behind his desk. Truly, this ridiculous person seems to out of his mind.

Warning! Wealth and fame will often attract the wrong types of people to “journalism.” In our view, the world would be much better served if Lawrence returned to his greatest love, the writing of fatuous Hollywood scripts.

For the record, Lawrence’s most appalling performance occurred in Campaign 2000, when he kept calling Candidate Gore a liar right through a dismaying performance on the McLaughlin Group in October 2000. He was a leading dead-ender in the war designed to punish Gore for his connection to the loathed Clinton, who had received those ten blow jobs.

The Iraq war came after that.

Right to the end, Lawrence worked to send George Bush to the White House. Our Dorchester street tough achieved this goal by making up “lies,” lies no one had told.

Wealth and fame may attract the word crowd into the journalism racket! Our own street tough from St. Sebastian’s and Harvard may be the ultimate proof.