I owe Megan McArdle an apology.
Actually, I’ve already offered it on the offending post, but as that snippet is now buried behind the front page, that seems insufficient.
So here it is:
In yesterday’s snark on McArdle’s item about the Washington Post’s arithmetical errors, I said “she actually writes…” about a Post mistake that converted millions into hundreds.
She did not write what followed. Rather, she was quoting without comment (other than her headline) from a piece by the Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander.
As readers of my own place know, I’ve taken second place to no one in the ferocity with which I’ve argued against what seem to me to be consequential failures of argument and reporting by Megan McArdle. This post wasn’t one of those. It was an attempt to have a quick bit of fun, and I made the kind of mistake I’ve teed off on in others.
Which leads me to something I find hard to write, but must.
To Megan McArdle: I’m sorry for the error that you — very mildly, considering the provocation — noted on the offending post.
And, of course, to the BJers who read this, my apologies as well. I try to provide high grade stuff, and this wasn’t.
Ah well. Live by the snark, and sometimes, die by it too, I guess.
Image: Henri Decaisne “Failure of a Military Operation,” 1826.
But just so we’re all still clear, she’s still an enormous hack, right?
Except you are not dead. The Curator shall return!
So, the score is now 845 to 1, give or take an order of megantude.
Can I invite my senior Ukrainian nurse to the next Balloon-Juice circle jerk?
@GregB: Not going to bite on most of what I expect from the commentariat here, but on this one, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”
Nice retraction, Tom. It’s a mistake that could happen to anyone.
I’ve got a request for a post from you if you would consider it.
Perhaps something on the history/or sensational consequences of scientific fraud? I read a pretty fascinating book on it years ago (the title escapes me at the moment). I bet you would be pretty good at presenting this and while fraud is not unheard of in science, the scientific community does a pretty good job of policing itself. I don’t think many laypersons understand the rigor involved in hardcore scientific publication.
It never hurts to check before, be sure.
Not doing so is the first step to hackdom.
Fuck! A Duck
Hey, look, we’ve had a hard time weaning DougJ off of McMegan, and you should just keep walking. At this point, pointing out the hackitude of McArglebargle is a waste of time, and highlighting her individual errors is low hanging fruit. It also cheapens you, Tom Levenson (and you are a highly praiseworthy commodity).
I will, however, invoke Sully the Pooh and say that you were right for the wrong reasons.
Oh noes! This McMegan-Tom Levenson quickie is the missing link between the Atlantic/Balloon Juice circle jerks.
However, it was central to your point…
This is what our ombudsman is for. Let’s try and follow protocol people.
@WyldPirate: This is a huge topic, and a great one. It may take a while, but I’ll try to come up with something.
I’ve loved this stuff since my youth, when “Drake’s Plate of Brass” was shown to be a fraud.
It had been such an icon in a kind of odd way — one that, as was obvious after the fact, was a not exactly-but-close-to-racist expression of Anglo priority, with its assertion that an English brigand got to the northern CA before the Spanish ones did. And it was hooey.
There have been lots of more consequential frauds in science since, and it would be fun to pull out some of the patterns and meanings there — which is a thriving subfield in what is now called science studies. I’ll take a look.
Good on you for it.
When McArdle makes a mistake as she does frequently, she argues the error proves her point or is irrelevant to her point. So by her standards, you were still right even when you were wrong.
FYI, Blondlot and his N-Rays is a famous historic example of scientific fraud.
@djheru: Damn you! You win. I was going to go with:
No, no, Tom, the correct response is not to classily apologize for being incorrect, but to throw a hissy that your mistake simply proves your point if your readers are paying attention and being honest.
I call Readership Capture! Readership Capture!!!
Classy apology. Would we all be so forthcoming when we’re hasty.
Still, I partially blame McMegan. Post enough ridiculous crap and when ridiculous crap gets posted and your name is in the vicinity of it, dots will be connected. Like crying wolf, but different. Or something.
Anyway, Tom, you’re absolved. Go forth and sin no more.
Not quick enough to get my circle jerk comment in. Damn you. Damn you all to hell. Or in other words, may you forever be stuck browsing the Atlantic web site.
c u n d gulag
We all make boo-boo’s.
Thanks for being man enough to admit it.
[Stupid weird Firefox thing where when you hit “tab” it jumps to another post farther down.]
Thanks, Tom. It is a fascinating topic.
I remember from the book I read years ago that one of the chapters was a Mendel and his “too perfect” statistics for his data regarding the assortment of genetic traits.
There was also a pretty good article related to this subject in, of all places, The Atlantic, called Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science. It has more of a bias than fraud theme, but it is still a good read.
@WyldPirate: An interesting recent book on one particular incident is _Plastic Fantastic_, about a Bell Labs researcher who seemed to be making some incredible breakthroughs on what looked like an amazing set of materials, but it all turned out to be completely made up.
Very well written, and accessible even if you aren’t a materials physicist (I am such, and since I know or have met several of the people in the book, it made the story that much more compelling).
Eugenie Samuel Reich
I will get ahold of this one and read it.
I just want to know if we capture enough readers, or get captured (still not sure how it works) then do we get a flag? A t-shirt? And autographed picture of Tunch? Dammit, I want to know what I’m playing for!
Thanks for the tip, dmsilev. I just read a killer review of the book on Amazon. It’s on my “buy a cheap used copy” list.
Spade foot toads. A scientist reported that they would change morphology in response to environmental factors. The Darwinians denounced him as a fraud and hounded him to suicide. later it was determined that he had demonstrated differential gene expression but didn’t know such a thing existed.
This is from memory. Apology for unintentional errors.
Way to man up there, TL! Easy mistake to make, given McMegan’s propensities.
Susan Of Texas
She seems to have recovered, Tom.
For that matter, it’s worth noting that our government has spent the last seven decades trying to keep the price of housing low, and that much of that intervention, such as the creation of mortgage securitization, ultimately significantly contributed to the crisis.
Goldman Sachs will be relieved to hear that.
@Susan Of Texas: Not going to look; not going to look; not going to look; not going to look.
I’ve got actually interesting work to do today. I will not lose the rest of the afternoon chasing down the history of mortgage securitization to stomp on this.
She really said that, did she?
Exactly. I’m not sure why Tom felt compelled to apologize (still got that pesky old Jiminy Cricket problem, eh?), but I suppose it was more palatable than the stomach-churning codswallop that oozes forth from Our Megan’s headbone on the occasions that she produces a howler that is simply too immense for her to high-mindedly ignore.
What a shame that Twain and Mencken lived in such relatively thoughtful times. They could be pumping out two or three blog-posts a day nowadays, at least until they would have had to be carted off to some quiet sanatorium to detox for a while. Not from any sort of alcohol or drug-related problem, but simply from the sheer awfulness of the almost incomprehensibly vast stupidity of Our Megan and her fellows.
Susan Of Texas
I need a McArdle break too, but she keeps coming up with great stuff.
You can argue that the employee health care deduction basically explains the entire cost differential between American systems and the others.
She’s the best blogger ever.
@Susan Of Texas: Saw that, and thought, hmmm “I can argue that lard eating pixies from planet Plaque have driven up US health care costs.”
call it poetic justice for the thousandthousand times shes said something stupid and DIDN’T get called on it.
carry on with the circle jerk.
And if it is the only way that I would ever see a work of art depicting men in white skirts wondering why they lost a battle, then it was all worthwhile.
Is it too late for me to get the no-bid contract on their laundry service? I’m sure the margins on those kinds of things are excellent in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
@Ross Hershberger: I think another interesting route would be to follow along with this idea — discussing research that was thought to be fraudulent (or just wrong) and turned out to be correct.
In addition to the spade toads, you could have J. Harlen Bretz and the Glacial Lake Missoula Floodland(s), Alfred Wegener and Continental Drift and probably many more
Hey, it happens, and you followed up honorably. (I’m assuming her blockquote formatting was always there.)
Plus, don’t worry, she’ll lie ineptly about something soon enough…
(I see upthread that Susan has already found something!)