Some of you may remember Tim Kowal, who used to comment at Positive Liberty. He blogs now at a sub-blog of Ordinary Times (until recently The League of Ordinary Gentlemen). He recently put up a post about abortion, which he’s against. And that’s fine. Where it gets iffy is when he starts commenting about polling data, first broached by one of the commenters who didn’t like his position, and he pulled a little trick I’ve seen him do before, emphasizing the parts of the data that are conducive to his position, and ignoring those parts that are not.
That poll says 64% want abortions outlawed in the second trimester, and 80% want it outlawed in the third. That’s a huge majority that disagrees with the “status quo”. [Link]
Well, yes, it does. But it also shows that a clear majority want to keep it legally available in the first trimester, and Tim never seems to want to talk about that part.
So I critiqued him, noting that it’s a bit disingenuous to cherry pick the data this way. And he missed the point.
Now comes this criticism insisting that conservatives who yield on matters of principle are engaging in sophistry. I call foul. In a discussion on morality, I will be happy to make my arguments about abortion on principle. But this post is about the politics of a moral issue… [Link]
I don’t quite follow that first sentence, but it rather badly missed the point. So I tried again; this is me talking this time.
There is no honest way to promote the favorable data points while downplaying the bad data points. As a social scientist who teaches my students about research methods, I can tell you straight out that we instill in our students the idea that to do so is a form of academic fraud. I would fail a student in my research methods or senior research class who did that.
[Quoting TK] In a discussion on morality, I will be happy to make my arguments about abortion on principle.
OK, in that discussion, the polling data is irrelevant.
[Quoting TK] But this post is about the politics of a moral issue
OK, so the polling data matters? Then all of it matters, not just the parts that are favorable to your position. (Are there pro-choice people doing the same thing from the other side? Then they’re being dishonest about it, too, and is that the company you want to keep?) [Link]
And he responded with this:
No one is doing “social science.” I was making an argument. That argument, so far as it goes, concedes where the poll data does not support it…. Also, I notice you do not label the comment offering the Gallup poll as “deceptive,” even though it only “promotes” some of the data…
This is not your classroom. Go sniff around elsewhere if you want to accuse someone of “fraud” and “deception.” It’s not welcome here.[Link]
And then, in an act that someone less generous in spirit than I might call cowardice, he shut down the comments. Well, it’s his blog, and that’s his right. But, TK, it’s the internet–you can’t claim the last word that easily, eh? Now let’s look at his complaints about my critique.
1. “No one is doing ‘social science.'”
Well, that’s not exactly true. If you’re using polling data to support a claim, you kind of can’t avoid doing social science. And anyway…
2. “I was making an argument.”
So, what, this justifies being less than forthright about the data? Keep in mind, TK prides himself on being a Christian, and he’s trying to hold the moral high ground here. But I went to church for a lot of years, and I don’t remember that the commandment against bearing false witness had an “I’m making an argument” exception. Granted, it’s tough to claim to be the moral side. If you actually act morally, you’re handicapped in practical politics by those who aren’t similarly constrained. But if you don’t actually act morally, then you can’t really claim to be on the moral side anymore. But, tough. That’s the path he’s chosen, and the only question is whether he can really walk it or not.
3. “That argument, so far as it goes, concedes where the poll data does not support it.”
Except, no, not in his hands it doesn’t seem to. He and I’ve gone around on this polling data issue before, and I’ve seen him emphasize when the majority agrees with him before (this discussion was deja vu all over again), but I don’t recall him ever giving much air time to where the polling data doesn’t support his argument.
4. “Also, I notice you do not label the comment offering the Gallup poll as ‘deceptive,’ even though it only ‘promotes’ some of the data.”
Actually, TK, I did. He seems a bit distraught here, so perhaps he missed the part in my last comment where I said, “Are there pro-choice people doing the same thing from the other side? Then they’re being dishonest about it, too,” And really, does he think I’m that kind of guy?
5. “This is not your classroom. Go sniff around elsewhere if you want to accuse someone of ‘fraud’ and ‘deception.’ It’s not welcome here.”
Oh, I’m sure it’s not. Nobody likes to be called out when they’re not playing fair. Now on the one hand, we could see this response as just being like my own commenting policy: “[T]his blog is primarily for my benefit, not yours or ours. So all comments are subject to my benevolence. The rule is essentially whether I would want to be having the conversation with you over beer at the bowling alley.” And if TK doesn’t find me an enjoyable drinking companion, that’s certainly his privilege. On the other hand, it’s fair game to criticize somebody who appears to want free reign to argue disingenuously while pretending to have the moral high ground. It’s also fair game to criticize somebody for acting in a way that some folks might interpret as looking just a bit lacking in, shall we say, certain manly qualities.*
Feel free to chime in here to defend yourself and critique me, TK. Unlike some people, I won’t try to take my blog and go home.
*For the record, I’ve not yet banned anyone here (not that I’ve ever had that many readers, of course). I encouraged one person to go away if he couldn’t talk about anything but the Koch Brothers, and more recently I suggested a former League of Ordinary Gentleman blogger bugger off if the only way he wanted to participate was full-bore incivility, but neither has been banned, and either can come back. I also, despite my comment policy threats, had never deleted a comment until recently, when a truly (and unfortunately) deranged person who rabidly hates me for being libertarian has commented under many names at the League–and who has been banned repeatedly, but eventually reappears under a new name–left a couple of really bizarre and perverse comments that I just couldn’t let stand. We haven’t had that much to drink.