JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

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Monday, May 12, 2003
 
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Lots of people, like Mickey Kaus, are going to town on the Blair story from the New York Times. Blair and the Times, these people are saying, prove that affirmative action is bad. Kaus writes that "fairly direct consequence of the Times's misguided race preference policy" (Kaus actually put this phrase in bold type).

John Leo at U.S. News and World Report writes:

"Everybody knows that this argument tends to trigger cries of 'Racism!' So let's stipulate: The overwhelming majority of plagiarism cases and journalistic scandals have been the work of whites.... But once you create preferences, you run the risk of increasing the number of screw-ups among the preferred group. Relaxing standards or pushing an unprepared candidate into a high-pressure job tends to increase the odds of trouble. All of us figure this out rather quickly when the preferred group is relatives of the boss or people who went to the boss's college. It's true of identity groups as well."

It's a cute little 'stipulation' on Leo's part, but it just doesn't wash. Blair isn't being accused of failing to meet standards that were relaxed for him. He has been accused of a crime. Leo knows this and plagarism is what he's been talking about until this paragraph. But then he equates standards with crimes. We have to throw away what Leo has written, unless he wants to rewrite his piece to "once you create preferences, you run the risk of increasing the number of plagarisers and criminals among the preferred group." Is that what he meant? If he did, you see why I don't buy his stipulation.

And, Leo is talking about trends. Trends. He uses terminology like "increasing" and "group" and "odds" -- that's trends talk.

In his talk about trends, how large is his sample? How many "unprepared candidate[s]" in this "preferred group" does his analyze? How much data does he have?

He, in fact, has a sample size of one. Blair. That's not trends data. He takes one datum point to paint with a wide wide brush. Not good argument technique -- not even in 8th grade.

So, Leo can't competently analyze data. (Or, he can, but choses, for rhetorical purposes, not to). He mix-and-matchs accusations (by equating 'low' standards with plagarism). Perhaps the New York Times isn't the only publication with editorial problems. U.S. News needs to edit its authors better, too.

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