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Monday, November 5, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007
One big thing universities do is draw conclusions that are based on evidence. The evidence has to be looked at carefully, sifted, compared, refined, and tested. It's basic, boring, indispensable stuff. It allows you to say something relatively true.

The contrasting case is the world of American political claims. "Spin" is too kind a word. The journalist Michael Tomasky analyzes a good example of phony facts leading to outright lying by Rudy Giuliani's campaign. Tomasky concludes that Giuliani "lies with staggering impunity," based in part on his claim that he's glad he didn't get prostate cancer in Britain, where the socialized medicine kills many more cancer victim than does America's free enterprise system. I paraphrase. Here's Tomasky's central paragraphs:
The numbers are false. The actual five-year survival
rate in Britain is 74%, which is still lower than
America's, but obviously high enough for the figure
not to have constituted fodder for a campaign
commercial. (Even the remaining, much smaller
difference, is largely explained by more widespread
screening in the US, which catches many more incidents
of prostate cancer that are non-lethal).

It turned out that Giuliani's numbers were from a
seven-year-old article in a conservative policy
journal. The article was written by his own healthcare
policy adviser, who admitted that his comparison was a
"crude" interpretation of a study by a respected
health policy group. The group, in turn, said the
article's author had grossly misused its numbers.

That's about as red-handed as anyone in politics gets
caught these days. But when asked if the campaign
would continue to use the figure, a Giuliani
spokeswoman said, "Yes, we will."
See also Paul Krugman's critique of the same false claim.

One other paragraph is worth special attention:
Giuliani's hypocrisy with regard to this ad doesn't
end with the fake statistics. As Joe Conason noted on
www.Salon.com, Giuliani was at the time of his
treatment the mayor of New York and enrolled in a
nonprofit health maintenance organisation for
government employees - that is, mini-socialised
medicine. And as Ezra Klein noted on Comment is free,
the treatment that saved Giuliani was developed in
Denmark - which, as Klein drolly notes, "is both in
Europe and has a universal healthcare system".
The one thing that would have insured Giuliani's premature death is lots of people like him doing academic research on prostate cancer. Universities work overtime to eliminate bogus claims. Too bad politics is so far behind.