fact checking

Same Question, Different Answers: How It Happens

How can two studies researching the same question come up with two different answers? That was the dilemma that several media outlets recently had to confront, with the release of the results of two studies looking at the impact of the city of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, which raised the minimum wage rate for workers in that city. Even though the studies were looking at the same issue, they came up with results that contradicted each other.

The results of the first study indicated that the wage increase didn’t reduce overall job numbers or hours of work. Media: “Yay! Minimum wage increases are a good thing.” But then the results of the second study indicated that the wage increase caused declines in both numbers of jobs and amounts of work. Media: “Um…okay, maybe minimum wage increases aren’t that great.”

The fact that these studies had different results doesn’t mean that one study is right and the other is wrong, or that both studies are wrong and nobody really knows what happened. The studies are admittedly not easy reading – both use complex forms of economic analysis that, frankly, I wouldn’t try to explain because I would probably get them wrong. But we can still look at how the studies were designed and carried out to see if there are reasons why their results might differ.

Here’s a table that (more…)

Ask Not What Amazon Can Do For You

The mighty Amazon has announced that it is looking for a city in which to locate a second North American headquarters (“HQ2” in Amazon-speak), to supplement its operations in its home base of Seattle.  It’s also released a set of specifications describing what it’s looking for in a new location. The reaction to this announcement has resembled the 1960s TV game show The Dating Game, in which a single man or woman would ask questions to three blushing men or women on the other side of a wall. Based on the answers, the questioner would choose which of the three they wanted to go on a date with, and then the lucky couple would finally get to see each other and go on a fabulous night out.

So Amazon has asked its questions, and 238 cities and regions throughout North America have answered, with (more…)

Not Normal

The Emmy Awards ceremony is usually an evening of fun and frocks, during which some awards are also handed out. But this year’s ceremony in mid-September came under fire for starting things off with a comedy skit featuring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Some commentators argued that, in his former job, Spicer regularly defended his boss’ racist and xenophobic decisions, so they wanted to hear him apologize before they were willing to listen to him tell jokes. Others argued that it was just a comedy skit, and Spicer deserved a second chance – particularly since he was fired from the White House, rather than quitting – and that like any other disgraced public figure he should have the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.

My feelings lie toward more toward the “not ready for jokes yet” perspective. I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert – and his principled and honest attitude toward his work – and I’m also a viewer of his show who really appreciates him calling out the ridiculousness of the actions of the Trump administration. So I was quite disappointed to learn that Colbert was apparently responsible for arranging Spicer’s Emmy appearance. There are likely larger issues of forgiveness and redemption going on in this situation that would take a very long time to pick apart here. But I’ll just say that, given Colbert’s insightful commentaries on the serious implications of Trump’s conduct, I would have thought that Colbert would have anticipated the potential for negative blowback from Spicer’s participation in the show.

What particularly troubles me about the decision to feature Spicer on the Emmys is how it demonstrates “normalization”. This is the phenomenon in which (more…)

The Golden Passport

It costs $144,000 US to get a Master of Business Administration degree at the Harvard Business School (HBS). Anyone paying that amount of money isn’t just buying an education – they’re also buying into a reputation, and gaining entry into a self-perpetuating elite circle of control. That’s why business journalist Duff McDonald’s new book, The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, The Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite, is a much-needed critique. It takes an uncompromising look at how HBS operates, and how (more…)

The Decline (?) of Racism

Sigh. It’s time for another “Margaret Wente gets it wrong” blog post.

This past weekend, the Globe and Mail plagiarist columnist proclaimed that racism isn’t really as prevalent as “the progressive left” would have you believe. In support of this position, she cited (more…)

A Strike That’s Gone On Too Long

Last week there was a significant event in Nova Scotia that went largely unnoticed in the rest of Canada. Unfortunately it’s not a positive event, and it deserves more attention.

Over 50 unionized newsroom employees at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax have now been on strike for more than 500 days. Yes, almost a year and a half. (The length of the average work stoppage in Canada is six days.) The strike started on January 23, 2016, after (more…)

Just Don’t Call Me Late for Dinner

During the recent British Columbia provincial election, a small fuss arose around how the leaders of the three major political parties addressed each other during the few times they met in debates. Liberal leader Christy Clark addressed New Democratic Party leader John Horgan as “Mr. Horgan” and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver as “Dr. Weaver”. Some people interpreted the “Doctor” as Clark being unnecessarily deferential to Weaver so as to implicitly insult non-Doctor Horgan.

Weaver does, indeed, have a Ph.D. – from the University of British Columbia, in applied mathematics. He was also part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, although I suppose “Dr. Weaver, Nobel Peace Prize co-winner” would have been a bit unwieldy as a form of address.

But what to call Weaver genuinely seemed to puzzle many people – to the point where (more…)

The Crooked Path of Research

 

This is a great explanation of why scientific research projects, and the results of those projects, are not as definitive or as linear as writers like Malcolm Gladwell want us to believe.

Scientific progress is a tricky thing. Despite what you might think, the direction of science is not always forwards – sometimes as a species we can unlearn things which then take us hundreds of years to re-discover. Sometimes this is simply from ideas not being publicised enough and it slips through the cracks. But more…

via How to keep science going forward — ErrantScience

Being Innovative About Innovation

Canada’s federal government released its 2017 budget last week – and the word of the day was “innovation”. By one estimate, “innovation” is mentioned more than 200 times in the 278-page budget document. And there’s lots of money available for innovation too: more than $8.2 billion directed toward various programs around skill and product development.

But despite the numerous mentions of “innovation” in the budget document, it’s difficult to find a clear explanation of how the federal government defines that term.  The government is right that workplaces are changing, and that workers and employers need to adapt to changes that affect their industries. But from looking at what the government is actually funding, it appears that the government is defining “innovation” mostly in relation to developing new technology, particularly around inventions that can be patented or commercialized. And much of the funding around “innovation” is devoted to creating conditions in which technology-based development can happen: for example, supporting “superclusters” of researchers and entrepreneurs to encourage business development in technology-related industries, or funding programs that teach kids how to code.

But let’s step back and look at this for a minute. (more…)

Why Government Is Not A Business

There’s more than enough information on the Internet right now about the havoc being inflicted on the United States by President Donald Trump and his associates. However, there are two perspectives on this craziness that I want to bring to your attention.

Some commenters have said they are not surprised at Trump’s behaviour in his new job because he’s “acting like a businessman”. In other words, he’s doing what the new CEO of any new business would do: setting up new procedures, changing things that need changing, and bringing in staff that he feels comfortable working with. Leaving aside the fact that Trump is a much less successful businessman than he pretends to be, this situation is a (more…)