Friday, April 2, 2010

All Hat and No Cattle

Veronique de Rugy is a conservative insider: fellow of conservative think tanks, Fox News regular, etc. She recently wrote a study that claimed stimulus spending was mainly directed to districts represented in Congress by Democrats. Statistician Nate Silver Pointed out the obvious flaw in her reasoning:
The study, by Veronique de Rugy of George Mason University and the National Review, claims that congressional districts which elected a Democrat to the Congress received a larger amount of stimulus finds by a margin which is statistically significant even after controlling for certain other effects like the unemployment rate. However, the study does not control for at least one other variable that is overwhelmingly important in determining the dispensation of stimulus funds.

The variable in question is in fact pretty obvious if you simply look at the districts that have received the largest amount of stimulus money, according to de Rugy's dataset.

The district that received the largest amount of stimulus funding in the 4th Quarter of 2009, according to de Rugy's tally, is California's 5th Congressional District. Is there anything notable about the 5th Congressional? Well, it is home to the state capital, Sacramento. Let's keep that in mind.

Next on the list is New York's 21st Congressional District. The largest city in the 21st is the state capital of New York, Albany.

Third is the 21st Congressional District of Texas. It contains parts of Texas' state capital, the wonderful city of Austin. (Another district that contains parts of Austin -- the 25th -- ranks 14th on de Rugy's list.)

At this point, it ought to be pretty obvious what is going on. The three districts receiving the largest amount of stimulus funds are home to the capitals of the three largest states -- New York, California, and Texas. Let's pause for a moment and make a bold prediction. I'll bet you that the district that ranks 4th on the list will contain the capital of the 4th largest state, Florida.

Bingo. Up 4th on the list is Florida's 2nd Congressional, home to Tallahassee.

Fifth is Pennsylvania's 17th, which hosts the state capital, Harrisburg.

The sixth through tenth districts contain the capital cities of other large states: Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. They are followed by districts that include the state capitals of Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia -- then another part of Austin, Texas -- then Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Finally, in 19th place is South Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, which does not host a state capital. (Ironically, it has elected a Republican -- J. Gresham Barrett -- to the Congress).
That was bad enough, but I suppose anyone can make a mistake. What is really appalling is the way de Rugy responded to Silver's correction:

1) I agree with Mr. Silver that checking for urban/rural populations and race may be a good idea, and I’d like to re-run the regressions per his specifications. I will gladly give him the Stata printouts when I am done.

2) I will also check for state capitals. While is no doubt that since the reporting only includes primary and sub recipients, it might be the case that money is being disbursed from the capitals. However, after skimming government documents about how the money is allocated there is no clear evidence that this is the case.
What, exactly, does de Rugy think would be "clear evidence"? Can't people just say, "Oops, I was wrong"?

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