Posted tagged ‘golf’

Days when it is too easy being Jon Stewart

June 5, 2008

Update: Never underestimate the power of the intertubes. Seems the McCain ’08 web gurus need a little more seasoning. They enabled comments (reviews, actually) of the golf gear mentioned below. Reviews they got — and somehow managed to miss the content of those comments for nine pages worth of thoughtful criticism. The function has been disabled now, sadly, and the offending comments removed, but not before John Cole and especially his inimitable chorus got a chance to weigh in. Enjoy.

Later update: From the comment thread at DKos, via John Cole.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

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This isn’t a political blog. Rather, it approaches politics when and as some scientific aspect makes the link — either when politics impinges on science, or when scientific ideas or approaches illuminate some argument happening in the public square.

But sometimes the sheer absurdity of it all is too much for such fine distinctions.

I mean — if I were a political comedian, what use could I make of this?

Here’s the visual:

Image: Lillian Fiske Thompson “Jerome D. Travers, Esq. Four times Amateur Champion of the United States,” 1915. Commissioned by Golf Illustrated & Outdoor America. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t Know Nothing ‘Bout Causality (or science): Washington Post Edition…

March 5, 2008

…Or why you can’t infer from one truly awful writer that all writers are dumb as a box of rocks.

By now, pretty much everyone in the blog reading world (or at least those I imagine are the readers of this blog) has heard of, and maybe even read Charlotte Allen’s unwitting (witless?) self parody (immolation?) in last Sunday’s Washington Post.

 

You can find all the responses you want with a quick google search — here are a couple that catch the zeitgeist pretty well. (For a post with links to a lot more see this one.)

So, with all that out there, what more to add? Two things, actually, or maybe two and a half.

First, this blog has gone on, perhaps to the point of exhaustion, about the importance of even very simple quantitative reasoning as both the starting point for thinking within the scientific world view — and just for making sense of the everyday world of experience.

Allen’s inability to do this reaffirms how important it is — not least for keeping yourself from looking like a true idiot in front of a national audience. Here’s the problem: one of the early “arguments” (sic) that Allen uses to suggest that “several of the supposed myths about female inferiority are true,” is that “Women really are worse drivers than men” according to a ten year old study out of Johns Hopkins.

Jake Young whaled on this one here, proving once again (take a memo certain Post editors!) that it really, really helps to read and understand a paper before you glom onto its abstract. But that critique, useful as it is, misses the simplest stupidity that Young (and her editors) commit.

Young writes that the study

revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men’s 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women.

Stop and think about that for a moment.

Now change the activity in question, and maybe turn the groups being distinguished into ones that have a little less political affect:

Say you have some working stiffs who play golf once a week on the weekends, and some biometrically equivalent trust fund golfers who get to hit the links three times a week. Next, breathlessly report that the weekend duffers “clock 5.7 bogies per 18 holes, in contrast to the trust funded group, who cut their bogie rate to 5.1, even though they play 300 percent more holes than poor folk.

D’oh.

From that you could conclude, I guess, that the evolutionary history that produces poor people also contains genes for lousy golf, and the reverse for the rich folk. Or you could propose that maybe hitting a few more balls might improve your game.

I don’t truly know if practice makes you a better driver. It seems a reasonable hypothesis — but you’d have to do some real research to say so with any confidence, of course.

I don’t even care if this fact has something to do with whatever the Johns Hopkins people observed.

Here’s the point: A couple of times over the last few years I’ve given a talk in which I’ve come out “against science literacy.” Allen’s article is an illustration of what I mean. She’s marginally literate in science-yness at least. She uses words like “genes” and botches that old chestnut about brain sizes and so on. But it doesn’t matter how many Tuesday Science Times section she reads. If she can’t think, it doesn’t matter how many words she knows. And thinking in this context means, at a minimum being able to understand the basics of the statistics she chooses to bandy.

So that’s one point. The other derives from the second half of my job title: I’m a science writer, and I have to say that there is one other quality of Allen’s piece that has not, I think, received all the ridicule it deserves. Boy, is that one badly written stretch of fish-wrap!

And here, I’m not talking about the global issues of logic, accuracy and argument, but the butt-ugly sentences and phrases she unleashed on who knows how many Sunday hangovers.

This post is long enough, so one example will do:

This female taste for first-person romantic nuttiness, spiced with a soupçon of soft-core porn, has made for centuries of bestsellers — including Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel “Pamela,” in which a handsome young lord tries to seduce a virtuous serving maid for hundreds of pages and then proposes, as well as Erica Jong’s 1973 “Fear of Flying.”

That’s damn near unreadable. Look at that construction:”This female taste for first-person…blah, blah, blah…as well as Erica Jong’s 1973 Fear of Flying.”

Did Allen miss that fourth grade lesson on run-on sentences, in which vital topics of syntax, usage and style were covered, as well as her college expos class? (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

I teach writing at the college and graduate level. My least articulate MIT freshman, fluent in Python, not in English, doesn’t commit crap like this.

Which leads to my last half point. The real damage here is to whatever is left of the Post’s editors’ reputation. Leave aside all the things that can (and have) been said about the vapidity or worse of every paragraph in the piece. How did anyone licensed to wield a red at the paper let uglification like this get through?

Just askin…

Images: James Gilray, engraver, “Physical air,-or-Britannia recover’d from a trance,” 1803. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Gunnar A. Sjögren, “Saab Formula Junior,” illustration on page 23 of The SAAB Way – the first 35 years of SAAB cars, 1949-1984, 1984. Released for uses clearly not contradictory to Saab’s interests.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Horace Hutchinson, British Golf Links, 1897 J. S. Virtue & Co, London, page 9. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

John Leech, ” published in The Comic History of Rome, p. 88 c. 1850. Source: Wikimedia Commons.