Monday, November 19, 2012

Mark Steyn, Texas Sharpshooter

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is new to me, so now, of course, I will see it everywhere.--SS  

Mark Steyn, Texas Sharpshooter:

Mark Steyn: “Just to be clear: I think Obama won the election, and his victory represents the will of the American people. Which is why the Democrats should have heeded Mubarak’s words and not over-stolen it.”

Glad we cleared that up!

By contrast, it actually is clear what fallacy Steyn is committing in his post. He’s a Texas Sharpshooter, if there ever was one.

If you don’t care to click the link above: Steyn thinks 37 Chicago precincts in which Romney got zero votes, total, is proof positive of fraud. (Someone had to vote for him by accident, if nothing else!)

Let’s think it through. I’m going to be a bit approximate about the numbers here. Chicago has just over 2000 precincts. Precincts average, to judge from the news article Steyn links, approx. 500 cast votes. That gets us 1,000,000 votes. That’s a bit low for a city of 3,000,000. (Must be that some precincts are bigger?) Anyhoo. I don’t now what percentage of the 2,000+ precincts are nearly 100% African-American, but let’s pencil that in as: a lot. (This is going to make the math squishy, admittedly.) So there are a lot of precincts in which you would expect to see, maybe, just five Romney votes out of 500. Or ten. Of course, chasing tails out both ends, there must be outlier precincts in which Romney got more votes than you would expect. And some in which he got zero. Thus, my proto-scientific conclusion: 37 0’s doesn’t seem like a lot, given that we know this is the tail end of a distribution of a lot of small numbers.

Gerrymandered districting is such common political practice that Steyn probably doesn’t see anything wrong with conceptual gerrymandering of districts (maybe, with a nod to Nelson Goodman, we should call it grueymandering): a large swathe of black Chicago – approx. 16,000 voters strong – in which Romney got squat votes. But, since there was not a single ex ante hypothesis of not a single X, anti-Obama, on any ballot from this singularly grue-ish Ward … well, you do the math.

I do like how, following up on the Benghazi ‘scandal’, we may now have another conspiracy that lacks a credible motive. What would be the point of depriving Romney of a few votes, in all-black Chicago precincts, thereby running up the numbers in Illinois, and making no conceivable difference to the election?

But I hereby predict that ‘zero votes for Romney from 16,000 Chicago voters’ is going to be with us for a while. I hope it makes it into textbooks on informal logic, too. It’s a good example.

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