Patterico's Pontifications

8/26/2011

Steve Benen Fails Logic, Statistics

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 12:07 pm



[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.  Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]

Hey everyone, it’s time to play “stupid or lying,” when you try to figure out whether a liberal is intentionally misleading you or is actually too stupid to understand what he read.

The set up is this.  In Florida, the Governor is Rick Scott who is a Republican.  Yeah, are you shocked that Benen is about to denounce a Republican?  Anyway, Scott argued that welfare recipients were more likely to do drugs and therefore proposed that welfare recipients should be drug tested before they receive benefits.  This is how it works.  If you apply you are told you must, at your own expense, obtain a drug test.  If you pass then the state reimburses you for the cost of the test; if you fail, then you lose both the cost of the test and your welfare benefits for a year.

So Benen writes triumphantly:

How’s that working out? Not well.

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free — leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.

As part of the Scott administration policy, those applying for benefits have to pay a $30 out-of-pocket fee to pay for the drug test. If they pass, Florida reimburses them.

And while the state saves some money by not making benefits available to those 2% who fail the test, Florida is forced to reimburse everyone else, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the drug-testing program, plus pay the legal fees associated with the likely court challenge.

This really wasn’t a great idea.

But let’s break that down.  First, he implies but doesn’t say that 2 percent is a low number.  But is it?  Just how many people do illegal drugs in the first place?  Some wag once said that there is no such thing as an accurate sex survey; I would say the same thing about drugs.

But there is a bigger problem, there.  That group is a self-selected sample.  This number shows how many people currently on drugs who chose to apply for welfare knowing that they were going to be tested for drugs—and likely will have to bear the costs of the test itself.  Look, drug users are probably not the brightest bunch as a group, but is it fair to assume that maybe 9 out of every 10 drug users are not that dumb?

Indeed the article he quotes from makes exactly the same error Benen makes:

More than once, Scott has said publicly that people on welfare use drugs at a higher rate than the general population. The 2 percent test fail rate seen by DCF, however, does not bear that out.

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, performed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, 8.7 percent of the population nationally over age 12 uses illicit drugs. The rate was 6.3 percent for those ages 26 and up.

A 2008 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy also showed that 8.13 percent of Floridians age 12 and up use illegal drugs.

[ACLU spokesman Derek] Newton said that’s proof the drug-testing program is based on a stereotype, not hard facts.

Except of course as I just showed that is faulty statistics due to selection bias (not to mention that I don’t trust surveys to gauge drug use).  But the extra interesting thing is that the preliminary data actually suggests that Scott might be right.  Consider this.  At one point in the article says:

Having begun the drug testing in mid-July, the state Department of Children and Families is still tabulating the results. But at least 1,000 welfare applicants took the drug tests through mid-August, according to the department, which expects at least 1,500 applicants to take the tests monthly.

You catch that?  They had 500 applicants less than they would expect in most months.  Indeed throughout the article they assume that there will be between 1,000 and 1,500 applicants.  For instance they write that

[a]ssuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.

But that is directly contradicted by the last quoted passage.  The last passage stated that the department “expects at least 1,500 applicants to take the tests monthly.” (emphasis added)  So according to the state DCF, they expected more than 1,500 applicants, and therefore the number of applicants was below normal.  And even if the 1,000-1,500 range is accurate that still puts the 1,000 applicants they did get on the low end of the normal range.

Now this is just one month and thus you are nowhere near establishing a trend but isn’t it funny that the very first month of testing we see a dip in the number of applicants?  And if the next eleven months has only 1,000 applicants per month what would that imply about Scott’s argument?

Benen goes on to imply, but not quite say, that it costs more to

reimburse everyone else, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the drug-testing program, plus pay the legal fees associated with the likely court challenge.

The funny thing is that the article he is quoting from makes it pretty clear that some of those costs are known to be lower.  Let me quote to you the parts he doesn’t want his readers to read:

Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free — leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.

The initiative may save the state a few dollars anyway, bearing out one of Gov. Rick Scott’s arguments for implementing it….

Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.

That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.

Now that does still leave the issues of 1) administrative costs and 2) litigation expenses.  And it’s funny that liberals never worried about litigation expenses when passing laws like Obamacare, but I suppose they figure that since lawyers overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, then litigation should not be considered a bug but a feature for their proposals.  But snide comments aside, the truth is that Benen and the article he quotes from don’t offer the slightest estimate of either figure.  And of course if this results in reduced drug use—either because potential recipients clean up in order to obtain benefits, or because they don’t have enough money to buy the stuff—then that will result in savings in police departments, prisons, child protective services (because they don’t have to take yet another child from a drug-addicted parent) and so on.  And of course it would be difficult, if not impossible, to tabulate those savings.  With all of these unknowns and with the program only having been in place for a month and a half, Benen is ready to declare it a failure.  That is, at best, grossly premature.

So back to the original question.  Is he lying to you, or is he just too stupid to understand what he wrote?  I am going with lying, given the selectivity of his quotations of his source.  But aren’t liberals supposed to be the people who question authority, who are inquisitive, etc.?  Take for instance this smug passage from a Deepak Chopra column:

One of the virtues of being on the liberal side of politics is that total obedience isn’t required. There are no hidden agendas. Ideology doesn’t lead to unreason….

Liberal politics is based on a non-regimented, all-inclusive approach to democracy. Freedom of thought is paramount.

However, in order to buy Benen’s argument, you are required ignore glaringly obvious gaps in information and logic, to ignore basic principles of statistics, and simply believe what he wrote without question.  Indeed, to believe what he has implied without him quite saying it.  It’s enough to make you think that the vaunted open-mindedness and free-thinking nature of liberalism is either dead, or was never real to begin with.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

57 Responses to “Steve Benen Fails Logic, Statistics”

  1. Benen is nothing more than a liberal shill. His adherence to liberalism and all things Obama knows no bounds. Likewise, he won’t miss an opportunity to trash Republicans and/or conservatives, even if it means making errors in facts or logic.

    But that’s what a shill gets paid to do.

    The real dupers are the self-proclaimed “very serious” liberals who read Benen and lap up every word he writes without question.

    Macgruber (7cefeb)

  2. I’m going with “stupid” on this one. He probably never noticed what was so glaringly obvious to both of us as we read the story.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  3. You are right to draw our attention to this issue, Aaron. But I’m not sure narrowing it to only 2 choices–lying or stupid– wholly gets at the problem. In my local environment unfortunately I encounter this Benen type of character all the time. I know for a fact they are not stupid people and I tend to think most of them are not “lying” in the sense that they are consciously intending to mislead, i.e., trying to sell the chump a lump. What I think is, that they are so closed minded, so biased, and so certain their political adversaries are the enemy with evil motives, that they just cannot help themselves. Time after time they see what is not there–and don’t see what is there. Omitting facts and drawing illogical conclusions. The pieces that seem to fit the narrative look golden to them. The pieces that don’t fit the narrative they don’t notice–the Benens don’t even realize the embarrassing refuting evidence is often right in front of their eyes.

    The other thread where the 2009 budget is being discussed is another perfect example of this, too.

    elissa (4904b3)

  4. Yes, “freedom of thought” as defined by “free to assume the ‘liberal=correct’ position without questioning ones presuppositions.”

    As I said elsewhere, “Yes”, “Both”, Vulcan mind meld, or the voice of God are needed, I think.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  5. What I find interesting is how professionals who use analytical and critical thinking in their daily work reading journals, etc., put their brains on hold when they read news and political opinion.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  6. Besides not understanding statistics, lefty journalists seem to suffer from the bizarre belief that welfare recipients really are just like everybody else, that they are all instances of “there but for the grace of God go I”, that dishonesty, tendency to violence, and drug use are to be found among them in no greater proportion than among anyone else, and that all talk of “welfare queens” is just right-wing propaganda by the rich and their lackeys.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  7. milhouse

    well, i am frankly agnostic about whether they are more likely or not to use drugs.

    i mean maybe if you are wealthier you are more likely to do it because you can afford it.

    Or maybe you are poor because you did drugs.

    Or maybe there are people who are in the drug trade who do not have officially declared incomes who then collect welfare just because its free money.

    i don’t pretend to know, but even if its only 2%, i don’t want the state to be subsidizing the drug trade.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  8. One of the reasons muslims and liberals are mutual admirers is that for both groups lying is a religious ritual. taqiya, allah akbar.

    dunce (8dd87b)

  9. What I find interesting is how professionals who use analytical and critical thinking in their daily work reading journals, etc., put their brains on hold when they read news and political opinion.

    They don’t. They just assume that the journalist who wrote the article must be about as smart as they are, and will already have dealt with the obvious flaws behind the scenes. “Surely he can’t have failed to notice that these aren’t the same populations”, they think, and assure themselves that this is merely a detail that he didn’t want to bore people with.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  10. What I find interesting is how professionals who use analytical and critical thinking in their daily work reading journals, etc., put their brains on hold when they read news and political opinion.

    Comment by MD in Philly — 8/26/2011 @ 12:44 pm

    This is absolutely correct. I am surrounded by smart, logical people who nevertheless believe the most godawful crap about economics and politics.

    The whole Global Warming debate is science-driven up to the point where it interacts with politics, and then it bursts into flames and plunges over a cliff.

    Pious Agnostic (6048a8)

  11. Most drug users are gainfully employed, by the way. Because notwithstanding the anti-drug propaganda, most people can handle them responsibly. But those that don’t are likely to end up on welfare if it’s available.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  12. The whole Global Warming debate is science-driven up to the point where it interacts with politics, and then it bursts into flames and plunges over a cliff.

    A prime example: everyone assumes that if the flaws were as big as they seem then there couldn’t be a “scientific consensus” behind the theory.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  13. It’s not that the Left doesn’t know anything, it is that so much of what they know is wrong.
    -R.W.Reagan

    Another Drew - Restore the Republic / Obama Sucks! (985f21)

  14. I’m going to assume that those who are currently incarcerated are disqualified from applying for welfare benefits; so that the fact that very few welfare applicants are disqualified for incarceration proves that welfare recipients rarely break the law.
    Works for me (Heh!).

    Another Drew - Restore the Republic / Obama Sucks! (985f21)

  15. My guess is that because he believes that Republicans are evil, he went with the numbers in the article without reflection–his column is explainable as confirmation bias. If similar numbers had been reported about a Democratic initiative, he would have tried to find weaknesses in them, and he might have recognized that there was a self-selection problem. However, most journalists and opinion journalists are innumerate and know nothing about economics or statistics, so it is quite possible that he might not realize self-selection creates a bias even if was looking for a reason to doubt the numbers.

    nohype (c86dc7)

  16. nohype is more than likely correct in this analysis.

    Pious Agnostic (6048a8)

  17. I realized something yesterday, which I am going to now codify as PA’s Law: In any conversation, the Journalist is the least knowledgeable participant.

    Pious Agnostic (6048a8)

  18. True! Oh so true.

    Another Drew - Restore the Republic / Obama Sucks! (985f21)

  19. Teachers too. Teacher school teaches them “how to teach”, but not anything else. But they think they know everything, so they remain knowing less than anyone else.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  20. Who is Steve Benen?

    DohBiden (d54602)

  21. Milhouse at #9
    Actually, I think the typical MD in an East coast academic center is quicker to question a paper in the top medical journals before an article in the NYT even though you would think people who get articles past the editors and published in JAMA, NEJM, etc. are pretty smart.

    I don’t know the details of the law, and I’m too busy getting ready for the “non-event” to look it up, but this is what I mean by “compassionate conservatism”- it is not compassionate to subsidize a person’s drug addiction when you are enabling them to continue in it and possibly neglect their dependents, like children. Neither is it compassionate to say get the h— out of here. Do the drug testing, have consequences and work for good.

    Yes, there are lots of people who drive into the ‘hood with their Mercedes and BMW’s to buy drugs, but lots of people with jobs get drug tested in order to obtain their money (by working), and most people don’t have such wonderful coping skills that they can succeed in life in an impaired state.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  22. I wonder what the cut off level for drugs in the system was used. What drugs were tested for and was there a follow-up test if the first cutoff was positive but over the cutoff level of a hundred ng/ml per ML and the followup test cut off was somewhere around 5 or 10 ng/ml.

    It comes down to how bad did they want to find drug users? Was the test designed to root out the hard core users AND recreational users? How much did they want to know about drug use among those tested? Did they test for alcohol use prior to the test? Was it blood alcohol they tested for and did they require only a breathalyzer?

    If someone is using an entitlement credit card to purchase illegal drugs and/or alcohol they should be seriously sanctioned.

    vet66 (981247)

  23. Aaron:

    I liked the article, and I too would answer your question by saying Benen (I’ve never heard of him) is lying, not stupid; were he that stupid, he couldn’t work either the computer or the internets.

    But I have a different question: Why the deuce did you post thirty-one paragraphs of a thirty-four paragraph blogpost on the main page — and then put the last three grafs behind the “More” link?

    Befuddled minds want to understand…!

    Dafydd

    Dafydd the Rulemaker (632d00)

  24. Ha! Brave Dafydd, you asked what we all were wondering!

    Pious Agnostic (6048a8)

  25. I’d go with option 3:
    ignorant on how statistics work

    rp (b154d3)

  26. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

    Mark Twain (and others)

    Teflon Dad (520d70)

  27. dafydd

    > But I have a different question: Why the deuce did you post thirty-one paragraphs of a thirty-four paragraph blogpost on the main page — and then put the last three grafs behind the “More” link?

    Easy, to screw with you. i mean not the audience in general but you personally. :-)

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  28. If you are correct, then you support a full employment program for drug testers. (I expect the state itself could conduct them for lesser money, but that would run against the kind of “privatization” you so prize.)
    But the key point here is that a lot of non-drug using folk are being put through the indignity of pissing in a jar, or whatever.
    Wish you had to keep doing the same to qualify for using ramps to enter buildings or whatever.

    Larry Reilly (0f7880)

  29. Thank you for the JournoList perspective, Mary. You never fail to bring the idiocy.

    JD (318f81)

  30. I expect the state itself could conduct them for lesser money

    What in the world would lead you to such a ridiculous conclusion?

    JD (318f81)

  31. I’ve have to piss in a jar every year as a condition of employment. Oh the indignity!

    Pious Agnostic (6048a8)

  32. Mawy wants the government to piss away the money it takes from us on people that “need it” after pissing away their own money (or previously received welfare money) on illegal drugs.

    Give him this much — when it comes to a pissing contest, Mawy wins going away.

    Icy Texan (534223)

  33. Larry

    hey, yeah, you know what? if you are going to get my f—ing money, there are going to be a few strings attached. Is it undignified? Well for most people being on welfare should be beneath their dignity.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  34. I look forward to the day when all recipients of Govt. largesse are required to take Scotts drug test. Big oil, Wall St. bankers, Red states?

    Spartacvs (b94d40)

  35. Benen is one of spurtycvs’ thought leaders.

    JD (318f81)

  36. I’m going with ‘never real to begin with’.

    Smug so thick you could slice it with a chainsaw.

    Ken McCracken (67a74e)

  37. does this include marijuana? Someone said we’re gonna vote on legalizing it again in California but I haven’t verified that yet.

    I particularly have no problem with people smoking marijuana really, and honestly I don’t get too excited if they do other drugs either.

    People and their drugs, you know? It’s a thing.

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  38. Well for most people being on welfare should be beneath their dignity

    Except for Wall St. wbankers and most red states, apparently.

    Spartacvs (b94d40)

  39. It took spurtycvs a while to get his talking points in order. Practically the same comment twice in 10 minutes. How cute.

    JD (318f81)

  40. “Why did God make so many dumb fools and Democrats?”– Clarence Day, Sr.

    mrt721 (3f3c8a)

  41. Except for Wall St. wbankers and most red states, apparently

    Exactly what red states receive welfare? I can’t think of a single state that receives AFDC or WIC or anything like that. Unless you’re loosely defining “welfare” as “any money from the government”, you’ve got your facts wrong once again.

    Chuck Bartowski (4c6c0c)

  42. Chuck – you know this is a common refrain from the leftists, based on flawed and dishonest metrics. If I recall correctly, they can only make this claim by including national defense and the military in their definition of welfare.

    JD (318f81)

  43. Red states are generaly a drag on the US of A as a whole, they take more more in federal dollars than they contribute in federal taxes.

    Spartacvs (b94d40)

  44. What did i tell you, Chuck?

    JD (318f81)

  45. I guess sporty means that all those poor brown folk working in Red States are racists. You, know, because the people who work live in the Red States while the headquarters are on the coasts.

    What a stinking racist.

    Why are you a racist, sporty? Not enough love when you were young?

    Ag80 (9a213d)

  46. Deepak Chopra, one of the most notorious peddlers of anti-science woo there is, belongs with the deluded lefties.

    Bradley J. Fikes (53a39a)

  47. Red states are generaly a drag on the US of A as a whole, they take more more in federal dollars than they contribute in federal taxes.
    Comment by Spartacvs — 8/26/2011 @ 7:54 pm

    — The above should appear as the sample sentence for the definition of ad hominem in the dictionary.

    Icy Texan (534223)

  48. Red states are generaly a drag on the US of A as a whole, they take more more in federal dollars than they contribute in federal taxes.

    Generally speaking, red states have more federally-owned land in them, so more federal dollars go to maintain that land. That’s not a drag on the USA.

    What did i tell you, Chuck?

    Oh, I knew going in that he was being dishonest. I just needed to beat up on his sorry pinata ass.

    Chuck Bartowski (e84e27)

  49. I wonder when that leftard will compare Palin to Lenin?

    Oh wait he was beaten to the punch by AshleyTurdKing.

    DohBiden (d54602)

  50. they take more more in federal dollars than they contribute in federal taxes.

    By the way, dumb-ass, that’s NOT welfare. You’re equating all federal spending with welfare, and that’s aggressively dishonest.

    Chuck Bartowski (e84e27)

  51. Comment by Larry Reilly — 8/26/2011 @ 5:08 pm

    Remember when “indignity” involved having to take government handouts?

    Stashiu3 (601b7d)

  52. “Red states are generaly a drag on the US of A as a whole, they take more more in federal dollars than they contribute in federal taxes.”
    And what do you do for a living? I know that’s another question you won’t answer, but people would like to know what exactly it is you contribute to society. So what is it? What role do you play in the betterment of the world? What is your job? Or are you like most people have pegged you, just a pathetic loser who gets his jollies on the internet. It’s obvious you have never had, do not currently have, nor will most likely ever have, a girlfriend or any kind of meaningful relationship with real human beings, so something other than whoring on the internet must get you off. Tell us about your education, your profession, and your deep meaningful life that you have, we’d really like to know.

    Jack Klompus (07a5ab)

  53. Comment by elissa — 8/26/2011 @ 12:42 pm

    Exactly my thoughts, Elissa. I think it is more a case of psychological denial than anything else. Have you read “Dr. Sanity’s” essays about the liberal mentality? I think you might find it fascinating, if not a little sad.

    Unfortunately the Doc is on blogging hiatus, but her archives are a treasure trove.

    Book (c7b6c5)

  54. Benen wrote:
    [if] 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.
    That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.

    Benen assumes that an average successful applicant will collect only about $800 total in benefits. That’s hopelessly unrealistic, especially since the applicant is denied benefits for a full year.

    Perhaps Benen is using $800 as the figure for a month’s benefits. If so, then he is deliberately ignoring the year length of the denial. If that is taken into account, then the savings is $386,000 to $578,000 – a clear win for the taxpayers.

    Rich Rostrom (d34a68)

  55. I see this generalization about blue states paying more taxes but I suspect that is out of date. I can see how New York City and Silicone Valley pay a big chunk in good times but New York got bailed out at the rest of our expense the past couple of years and, if you include the bailouts, New York is a drain on the country.

    Mike K (8f3f19)

  56. I wonder when that leftard will compare Palin to Lenin?

    Never. He admires Lenin.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  57. Via ian cormac: More economic illiteracy from Benen

    Milhouse (ee8a5d)


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