Monday, September 13, 2004

Kicking over your strawmen 

If you can prove an academic paper's thesis before it even gets to print, and do so in the New York Times, you've probably done a pretty darn good job. Another paper on media bias, this time in producing economic news, is now out in working paper form, written by two economists at the American Enterprise Institute.

This paper develops an econometric technique to test for political bias in news reports that controls for the underlying character of the news reported. Our results suggest that American newspapers tend to give more positive news coverage to the same economic news when Democrats are in the Presidency than for Republicans. When all types of news are pooled into a single analysis, our results are highly significant. However, the results vary greatly depending upon which economic numbers are being reported.
AEI, being a DC think tank, knows how to promote its work and so put on an event on media bias today complete with discussants and some more presentation materials. But the NYT doesn't wait for the presentation to discuss the paper, and instead assembles a panel of pooh-pooh-ers. Craig Newmark is much more succinct than I would be:

The piece concludes with a vicious insult of Lott by Professor Brad DeLong. Note that the insult implicitly criticizes the editors of the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Law and Economics, and all the other top economics journals John Lott has published in, journals that presumably wouldn't publish the work of "right wing hacks".
That's right, one of the authors of the article is John Lott, and that in and of itself constitutes a positive defense in DeLong's view that the article proves no such thing as media bias. (Proving that two can play that game, Don Luskin strikes back.) The other author is Kevin Hassett of Tech Central Station fame. Are we to assume that he was duped into this research by Lott?

All this, over an unpublished article.

The NYT has done a disservice here. We've discussed this type of research before; the nature of the research is empirical, and subject to debate and review. Lott and Hassett's research is in need of scrutiny, and placing it on a site like SSRN, where working papers are published to be read, reviewed, dissected, and more than a few sent to oblivion by insightful rebuttal, invites that. In the double-blind process the paper would be reviewed without knowing the identity of the authors, precisely to stop the ad hominem attack of De Long, et al. And the paper could use it; I've read it very quickly this PM, and I think the econometric results need much better explanation for why the joint results work so much better than the results for individual economic news sources. Really reading the paper though, is hard work, and it doesn't appear any of the commenters have done so. And the NYT doesn't address the fact that a second paper on the topic comes to roughly the same conclusion.

If Brad wants to be pissy on his own blog, that's his prerogative. (If you technorati this article, you will find several lefty bloggers engage in the same type of attack: "Oh you won't believe what Lott's up to now!") But the point of the paper is that each side of the ideological divide believes the media is biased against them, and you would think both sides would want to hold a reasoned debate on which view is right (and perhaps neither is.) The NYT has hindered that exploration.

In the process, they've added a datum to Lott and Hassett's information set.