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So much for Democrat economic illiteracy?

12.12.11

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MYSIDE BIAS
Re: David Catron's Democrat Economic Illiteracy Has Consequences:

You write:

That Democrats are generally illiterate about basic economics is not a matter of mere conjecture. In 2010, Daniel B. Klein and Zeljka Buturovic analyzed answers provided by a random sample of 4,835 Americans to a list of eight questions about economics. The results, which noted the party affiliation of the respondents, were not flattering to our friends on the left. "Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect." And these were not arcane questions. They involved elementary concepts, like the effect of price controls, covered in any Econ 101 course taught at the lowliest community college and even some of the better high schools. Yet the average Democrat respondent got nearly 60 percent of the answers wrong.

So you cite that one study, as evidence that Democrats don't know much about the dismal science.

Daniel Klein has walked back much of that claim, in the current issue of the Atlantic.

If you were aware of that fact, and didn't mention it, that's dishonest. If you weren't aware, you should have been -- a quick Google search would have pulled it up. You obviously didn't write your summary of the Klein-Buturovic study from memory, so while you were refreshing your memory about that study from last year (or the WSJ piece about it), you should have came across Klein's volte-face. The web version of your piece is time-date stamped 6:09 AM today, 12-8-11. Klein's "I Was Wrong, And So Are You" has been available for at least a week. Leaving out any mention of Klein's Atlantic piece is certainly not the same as omitting criticism of the Klein-Buturovic study by others, last year or this year, as Klein is the co-author of the study you cited, and raises serious doubts about it in his new piece.

Your editor should have caught this omission also.

I suspect that this is an example of myside (confirmation) bias, and groupthink… perhaps caused by only consuming media from one side of the political spectrum -- one's own.
-- Tom Oliver
MBA, Suffolk University
Braintree, Massachusetts

I was sent your article "Democratic Economic Illiteracy Has Consequences" by David Carton in an email and object to the way your story was handled. The article is based on a study published by Daniel Klein and Zeljka Buturovic that was promoted in the WSJ editorial section. However, Klein later published a retraction of his findings and attributed the results to using biased questions. In an article to a follow-up piece published by Klein in the Atlantic he attributes the flawed results to have arisen from the fact that "several of the statements we analyzed implicitly challenge positions held by the left, while none specifically challenges conservative or libertarian positions." (Here is the link to Klein's retraction.)

Hopefully this information will help you correct the error in your story.
-- Ben Friedman

David Catron replies:
Messrs. Oliver and Friedman aver that, as the latter puts
it, "The article is based on a study published by Daniel Klein…" Actually, my conclusion that Democrats are illiterate concerning economics is based on these facts provided in the introductory paragraph: "These are, after all, people who believed that health care would be made cheaper by a law that increases demand for medical services while reducing the supply of health care providers. Most would agree with the claim, made by journalist-cum-cheerleader Jonathan Alter, that Obama's economic stimulus package 'prevented another Great Depression.'"

Ignoring that clear "tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em" passage, Oliver and Friedman construct a straw man using two sentences that I quoted from Daniel Klein's 2010 WSJ piece, "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" They knock down their straw man by accusing me of deliberately failing to note that Klein has recanted in the December 2011 issue of The Atlantic (which, according to Oliver, was posted on the web a week or so before my piece came out).

As it happens, I hadn't seen Klein's mea culpa at the time I wrote my column. Had I seen it, I probably would have made a passing reference to it while noting that I find it no more convincing than any other recantation extracted under torture (i.e. the relentless abuse to which he has been subjected since publishing his original WSJ column). Moreover, its basic point is not that Democrats are literate in economics, but that confirmation bias can taint the work of even the most conscientious researcher.

Predictably, Oliver's letter concludes with the assertion that my column is "an example of myside (confirmation) bias, and groupthink…perhaps caused by only consuming media from one side of the political spectrum -- one's own." In this, he displays the well-documented progressive gift for unintentional irony. Confirmation bias is precisely what caused him (and Friedman) to ignore 1,200 words of a 1,300-word piece in order to assault their straw man. And, if I were guilty of reading only material from my side of the political spectrum, I would hardly subject myself to the brayings of Jonathan Alter.

In reality, an objective reader can completely ignore the paragraph referring to Klein's WSJ piece and still see that Democrats are in general clueless about economics. That a majority of Dems actually believed PPACA would reduce health care costs should alone be enough to convince anyone of their ignorance of rudimentary economics. The same can be said of anyone who credits the preposterous claims of Hilda Solis and her masters about unemployment benefits and the results of ARRA.

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