Sunday, February 24, 2008

Intellectual Fraud: The McNamara Syndrome

Bertrand Dautzenberg, a lung specialist, reported to health minister Roselyne Bachelot that in the month and a half since the ban on smoking in public places went into effect, emergency admissions for heart attacks have dropped fifteen percent. The reporting of this fact--if it is a fact--is meant to induce readers to make an inference against which students of Statistics 101 are cautioned on the first day of class: correlation is not causation. Newspapers should be ashamed of publishing this story. Dr. Dautzenberg should be ashamed of submitting such a report. Mme Bachelot should be ashamed of commissioning it.

The only worthwhile reporting I've seen on this can be found here, on the blog Blogizmo, which mentions a few of the confounding factors one might want to take into account. I realize that ministers will probably be evaluated soon after the upcoming municipal elections, but is Bachelot really so desperate to put a number on the record that she would resort to a subterfuge of this sort? One problem with evaluating ministers by means of quantifiable metrics is that it encourages this kind of blatant nonsense. Believe me: having served as an unwilling conscript in the U. S. military in the McNamara era, when quantified evaluation was all the rage, I can tell you many stories of the bizarre deceptions and misrepresentations to which it can give rise ("body counts" were only the most notorious). This report is the first evidence that the French government will not be exempt from the McNamara Syndrome.

3 comments:

MYOS said...

Thank you! I found the report dubious but I hadn't looked into it. Your superbly clear article is perfect to make up for what I would otherwise skip/miss! :)

Anonymous said...

well-said, indeed.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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