May 17th, 2011

Conservative Estimates: I don't think that means what they think it means

I think the first incident to sensitize me to the abuse of the phrase "conservative estimate" was the Nature article about a computer model suggesting a historical MRCA. In the ensuing weeks, I feel like every single time I've seen the phrase "conservative estimate", even moderately close analysis indicated that the estimate was anything but conservative.

But I think today's example is the best yet:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/05/the-cost-of-bin-laden-3-trillion-over-15-years/238517/

"By conservative estimates, bin Laden cost the United States at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years"

Perhaps Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley mean, "hey, we found some batshit crazy conservatives who are willing to estimate the following". Because they certainly cannot mean, hey, this is probably a lowball figure.

I'm a little startled to find that Fernholz and Tankersley appear to believe that the military buildup that occurred under Bush is meaningfully attributable to bin Laden. There's every reason to believe that quite a lot of what happened (the Iraq War for sure) was going to happen no matter what the external circumstances were, at least if Bush had any say in the matter.

Surprisingly, the rest of the analysis in the article is even worse. At least this has given me a New Rule: if someone says "Conservative Estimate", the next numbers to appear will be laughably lunatic, risible and ridiculous, terribly twisted, and any number of other things. But they will _not_ be a conservative estimate in the commonly understood literal sense of the words.

Romney, Health Care and Fundraising

I live in the state that benefits from the bipartisan efforts under Romney to get universal health care coverage. I know people who specifically benefit from it. While I, personally, have significant prejudices against Mormons in general and I don't trust Romney in particular because I don't think he'll be reliable on choice issues, I have been a little surprised by how thoroughly he has been dissed in this still-early run-up to the presidential primary. Yes, I know, Republicans who participate in primaries are not known for moderation, and Romney's about as close to a moderate choice as can be found in a weird and ambiguous field.

James Oliphant writing for the LA Times, however, has finally found a hook for a non-dismissive story about Romney.

http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-romney-roll-20110517,0,641624.story

The first para is "don't write him off, he raised a bundle". The second is "he tried to explain MassCare". The third is "Christie was nice to him". Then there's sum-up of who's out (Trump, Huckabee) and in (Gingrich), and how Gingrich f*ed up by taking on Ryan and then backpedaling, and how Nikki Haley jumped on Gingrich (among others, including Limbaugh who is conspicuously _NOT_ mentioned in the article). Then there's compare/contrast of fundraising between Romney and Ron Paul. Inevitably, wrapping up with Daniels.

Here are some more predictions for us to chuckle over in the future when most of them turn out to be totally wrong:

Daniels is not going to run.

Romney will be the Republican candidate.