P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

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Monday, July 28, 2003
Contempt For Facts

Last fall I wrote an essay entitled Garbage In–Garbage Out that bemoaned the decision-making process of the Bush administration:
It is a fundamental axiom of decision-making that one’s decisions are only as good as the information on which they are based. Bad information, or simply an absence of information, leads to bad decisions. The acquisition and assessment of information is the sine qua non of decision-making.

One of the reasons that we have little confidence in President Bush’s decision-making with regard to almost any issue is that he exhibits a complete lack of respect for the collection or assessment of information prior to making his decision.

Normal procedure for making rational decisions is to gather as much information as possible, assess the quantity, reliability, and relevance of such information and only then decide. Mr. Bush turns that procedure on its head. For Mr. Bush, the procedure is to make a decision first and then “manage” information to support the decision. Instead of carefully assessing relevant data, Mr. Bush simply listens to his “gut,” consults his moral clarity, and ignores factual data. He uses Revealed Truth as a substitute for data analysis.

Little has happened in the last year to change my mind. Mr. Bush’s disdain for using expert opinion and hard data as the basis for decision-making is boundless.

Take for example the issue of the National Intelligence Estimate with regard to Iraq policy. Last year I wrote as follows:
When deciding on his Iraq policy, Mr. Bush refused to have a National Intelligence Estimate performed. A National Intelligence Estimate compiles all intelligence data from the CIA and other intelligence sources into one document. It may be shocking that the White House would formulate a policy in the absence of National Intelligence Estimate, but the White House had sound reasons. According to USA Today, the White House failed to request a National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq because such an estimate might have cast doubts on the administration’s assertions about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. The White House did not want to “document” those doubts.

We now know that under pressure from the Senate, the administration finally did perform a NIE regarding Iraq. Once the NIE was finished, it was sent to Mr. Bush and his national Security Advisor Condi Rice. Neither Mr. Bush nor Dr. Rice could be bothered to actually read the NIE.

As Digby has noted:
It would appear that this NIE was designed specifically for the purpose of convincing wavering Senators and may explain why they included such absurdities as the Niger yellowcake nonsense as well as why Condi didn't bother to read it. Clearly, it was not a document the administration believed was important for their own purposes.

That pattern shows up again and again with Mr. Bush. A second example we used in last year’s entry was the administration’s Waco economic summit. We noted that:
When Mr. Bush held an economic summit in Waco, Texas this summer, he did not use the opportunity to gather information about the economy. Mr. Bush made sure not to invite anyone who did not already support his economic policies. No discussions of the issues of deficit reduction, stock market collapse, slowing or non-existent growth, rising unemployment, potential for deflation, or corporate abuses were permitted unless in the context of how Mr. Bush’s existing policies were the exact set of actions to remedy any ills.

A year later, the administration not only fails to seek out opposing views, it justifies its economic policy by citing benefits that can not be detected. Josh Bolten, the new OMB director made that explicit recently when he said:
I think the art and science of economics has not yet advanced to the stage where we can really properly capture all the positive effects the tax cuts do have on the economy.

Mr. Bush makes economic policy in the absence of empirical evidence and then claims benefits of that policy that cannot be measured. The blame, of course, is put directly on the economists who are not sufficiently “advanced” to recognize all the invisible benefits of Mr. Bush’s policy.

There are countless other examples. Mr. Bush thinks it would be nice to have a missile defense system. He orders deployment of such a system despite the views of many experts that the system will not work.

The experts who try to provide Mr. Bush with reliable information that happens to cut against the Revealed Truth are shown the door. Via Brad DeLong, I located this AP report:
In the rising controversy over how the Bush administration built its case for war in Iraq, one curious fact stands out. Some who gave President Bush unwelcome information that turned out to be accurate are gone. Those who did the opposite are still around.

Former economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki voiced concerns about the expense, aftermath and forces that would be needed concerns now proving to be true. These men are no longer in the picture.

Mr. Bush’s decision to limit federal funding for stem cell research to existing stem cell lines was predicated on the existence of 60 active lines being available to researchers. Despite the fact that it has become apparent that only 11 lines are available and that those lines have problems, Mr. Bush has not chosen to reconsider his decision.

In the Washington Monthly, Nicholas Thompson notes that:
The administration's stem-cell stand is just one of many examples, from climate change to abstinence-only sex-education programs, in which the White House has made policies that defy widely accepted scientific opinion…

When required to seek input from scientists, the administration tends to actively recruit those few who will bolster the positions it already knows it wants to support, even if that means defying scientific consensus. As with Bush's inquiry into stem-cell research, when preparing important policy decisions, the White House wants scientists to give them validation, not grief.

The Bush administration’s reliance on Revealed Truth instead of hard data in its decision-making is dangerous. Kevin Drum writes:
Bad managers…either insulate themselves, or ignore the data when it's given to them, or deliberately choose to interpret the data in perverse ways. This is how George Bush strikes me. He simply doesn't care about whether things really work or not, or what the true effect of his plans is going to be, or what the data says. He just charges ahead because he's absolutely sure that his instincts are all he needs.

The real world eventually has its way, of course. The only question is how long it takes, and how much damage gets done in the meantime.

I fear that the damage will be substantial.

Sunday, July 27, 2003
Not A Pulitzer Winner

Sometimes reporters just do not seem to take their job seriously. Via Wizbang, I found this Yahoo News story from Reuters:
A pair of flying underpants caused a crash on a German highway when they landed on a driver's face and blocked his view, police said Tuesday.

A police spokesman in the central town of Gotha said one of a group of naked men in a van threw the underwear into a Volkswagen Passat as they passed it on a busy stretch of one of Germany's notoriously speedy autobahns.

"The underpants landed on the driver's face, causing him to ram the truck ahead from behind," said the spokesman, adding that he did not know why the men were driving along naked.

No one was hurt in the crash, but police are hunting the owner of the underpants for failing to stop at the scene.

That is the entire news story. Perhaps it is just me, but that report seems woefully incomplete. There is a complete absence of in-depth reporting.

First, although the report notes that the victim was driving a Volkswagen Passant, it completely fails to tell us if the car was a convertible or a hard top. It takes a high degree of skill to throw underwear from a speeding van not only through the open window of a trailing car but also hitting the driver squarely in the face. On the other hand, any lout might get off a lucky shot and hit the driver of a convertible. The reporter fails to clear up that crucial distinction.

Secondly, the reporter fails to tell us if the successful toss was the first attempt. The fact that a number of men in the van were naked suggests that more than one article of clothing had been thrown. An enterprising reporter would have scoured the autobahn for several miles looking for shirts, trousers, socks, and shoes. Instead, we are just left to wonder.

Next, the article makes no mention of alcohol. One of the first rules of journalism is that all stories about wrecks caused by underwear being thrown from moving vehicles must be accompanied by a reference to alcohol. The failure to provide such a reference shows either inexperience or incompetence.

Finally, the reporter exhibits an ignorance of recent history. After the Clinton brouhaha, no such story is complete without answering “boxers or briefs?”

By just phoning in his work, the reporter missed a real opportunity. I smell a whitewash. There is no telling how big the real story could be.

For instance, it is reported that “"the underpants landed on the driver's face, causing him to ram the truck ahead from behind." That does not comport with my experience. Every time I have been minding my own business tooling down the autobahn only to be blinded by flying underwear, my reaction has been to hit the brakes not the gas. There is no way I would have rammed a truck ahead of me.

There is more to this story than meets the eye. Take the role of the German police. The story says that they are “are hunting the owner of the underpants.” Should they not be looking for the thrower of the underpants instead of the owner? Is there some rule against throwing the underpants of another?

The police, apparently, are hoping to charge the owner of the underpants with “failing to stop at the scene.” Does that imply that Germany has no laws prohibiting the flinging underwear onto high speed autobahns unless the perp fails to stop after causing the wreck? That is hard for me to accept.

It is said that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. In this case, I expect that German motorists are hoping there has been a cover-up.