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November 29, 2008

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I think you misunderstand the Post's perceptual frame.

Parker is merely issuing a timely reminder of what 'everybody knows'. It's no more than 'common sense' and she's only pointed out the latest study to support the received wisdom.

Kind of a case study in the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. Statistical literacy isn't relevant - the epistemological problem lies much deeper than that.

Parker made no mistake. She reported accurately that ISI had found a cause and effect relationship. Indeed, ISI wrote:

"...discovered that the civic knowledge gained from the combination of engaging in frequent conversations about public affairs, reading about current events and history and participating in advanced civic activities is greater than the gain from an expensive bachelor’s degree alone.
Conversely, talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy."

Did ISI mistakenly assume that correlation = causation? Possibly so, but their report doesn't specify what analysis they did, so they may have had a basis for their causal conclusion.

Following up Ken Lovell's comment, although correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation, such an implication can be derived if various other conditions obtain.

David, it seems that you're defending Parker's column by claiming that she merely parroted the ISI's report, which would make her a pretty lousy columnist.

And I think you're going too easy on the ISI. They make the extraordinary claim that people actually get stupider if they talk on the phone, watch TV news or watch documentaries (those things "diminish" civic literacy). Since they don't back up the claim, it's hard to believe they did any analysis at all that would justify that conclusion.

And what is civic literacy? Apparently, it's knowing the answers to a collection of multiple choice questions (mostly definitional) that the ISI considers important.

Jinchi, I don't know if people get stupider if they watch TV news or documentaries, but I'm convinced they get stupider if they watch American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Or listen to rap music. Or read US Weekly. Or see Rocky VII. And the list goes on and on.

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