This post originally ran 1 July 2011. The authors never responded to my offer.
Democrats! I beseech thee! Do not let thy children fly the flag on the Glorious Fourth! The Red, White, and Blue are the devil’s colors. The bands that march down main are akin to crack to small ears. Exposing thy issue to fireworks might turn them into—gasp—Republicans!
Or so says Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor David Yanagizawa-Drott and Bocconi University Assistant Professor Andreas Madestam. Neither, you will notice, has tenure. Not yet. I don’t know much about Bocconi U., but Harvard is infamously left wing to the point of falling off the cliff, so this new paper surely boosts Yanagizawa-Drott’s chances of gaining the prize.
But not if this work is judged on its statistical merits, which are well short of a what a sugar-addled 6th grader produces when trying to guess how many blue M&Ms are in a bag of candy for his science fair project. If I were the Dean of Kennedy and I saw this, I’d quietly slip brochures of Yale’s generous employment benefits under Yanagizawa-Drott’s door.
It’s being reported everywhere, that the pair of “researchers” said that “Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation’s political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party.”
They also claim:
The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century. Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.
How did they discover these dirty little secrets? Why, by using statistics to “study the impact of Fourth of July during childhood on partisanship and participation later in life.” Sounds dull but plausible, in a typical academic way. But how did they measure childhood 4th of July participation? Are you ready to hear?
Many of you will say, “Yes! Tell me!” But I caution that if you are squeamish not to read farther (or is it further?). What is once read can never be un-read. I don’t want you to lose what little faith you had left in the academy.
Our method uses daily precipitation data from 1920-1990 to proxy for exogenous variation in participation on Fourth of July as a child. The estimates imply that days without rain on Fourth of July in childhood increase the likelihood of identifying with the Republicans as an adult, voting for the Republican but not the Democratic candidate, and voter turnout.
Dammit, I should have added a legal disclaimer before that quotation. God knows how many people were eating when they read the quote, a conjunction of events which almost certainly lead to choking. To my reader’s lawyers: I warned them not to continue!
Understand: they did not actually measure anybody’s 4th of July participation, they merely asked if it rained when one was a kid. Forget the error in measuring rainfall on parade spots and whether small amounts of rain or large had the same effect; forget, too, of knowing where people were when kids, of whether they could or couldn’t go to parades regardless of weather, of whether the cities where it rained or shined had a history of Republican or Democrat activism, we’re using statistics here! This is science!
Our pair quotes newspapers to learn such things like, “Rain keeps crowds thin, ends some festivities…” Get it? From this they deduce, “Random rainfall therefore provides plausibly exogenous variation in participation in Fourth of July celebrations.” When is the last time you heard somebody casually drop “plausibly exogenous” in a conversation? Yet another benefit of attending Harvard.
Even though they admit that, “There are some issues with matching and measurement of rainfall for individuals during childhood” (using issues as an inappropriate synonym for impossible problems), our pair say their “findings are significant,” as in statistically significant. Do you now see why I claim this term should not be allowed? These main findings are:
[O]ne Fourth of July without rain before age 18 increases the likelihood of identifying as a Republican at age 40 by 2 percent the share of people voting for the Republican candidate at age 40 by 4 percent, and the share of people turning out to vote at age 40 by 0.9 percent.
If this is so, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other sunny sumer cities should be hotbeds of rapid Republication roisterousness. Just like we see in real life, right? Right?
But enough. Even I, well used to grotesque pathological statistical specimens, find myself growing nauseous. And I still must make my 4th of July plans.
I call on my colleagues to admit that any paper can eventually be published in some journal and thus claim the label of “peer-reviewed” study. As idiotic as this work is, it will still find a home, which will allow it to be “cited” by other authors (many of whom will not be bothered to read the original), and so take on the appearance of “truth.” Very depressing thought, no?
I emailed both authors and offered them space for a rebuttal. I’ll let you know if they reply. In case you did not see it above, here is the link to their original paper.
Update I don’t know how many of you considered the full implications of this most frightening study. As of Saturday morning, the forecast for Monday at San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, probably in Boston and all along the east coast, and on the west, too, including Portland and Seattle, calls for bright sunny skies. No rain, friends. The weather is conspiring to unleash a wave of nascent Republicanism on these once Democrat strongholds.
Look out, DNC, it’s even worse! Because global warming—a.k.a. climate change, a.k.a. climate catastrophe—will bring even more sunny skies and parade-friendly weather. Waves of clement afternoons and of conservatism are set to sweep over the country. Quelle catastrophe!
Perhaps prior knowledge of this study is what has been driving Democrats to so vociferously advocate direct government action to combat global warming?
(Those who laugh at these projections have failed to understand they are exactly what are predicted by the paper.)