The Great Vote Fraud Data Mistake…A Cautionary Tale

Just in time for the latest, greatest Shitgibbon pursuit of all those not-good-people who got to vote for his opponent, Maggie Koerth-Baker brings the hammer down.  She’s written an excellent long-read over at Five Thirty Eight on what went wrong in the ur-paper that has fed the right wing fantasy that a gazillion undocumented brown people threw the election to the popular-vote winner, but somehow failed to actually turn the result.

The nub of the problem lies with a common error in data-driven research, a failure to come to grips with the statistical properties — the weaknesses — of the underlying sample or set.  As Koerth-Baker emphasizes this is both hardly unusual, and usually not quite as consequential as it was when and undergraduate, working with her professor, used  found that, apparently, large numbers of non-citizens 14% of them — were registered to vote.

There was nothing wrong the calculations they used on the raw numbers in their data set — drawn from a large survey of voters called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The problem, though, was that they failed fully to handle the implications of the fact that the people they were interested in, non-citizens, were too small a fraction of the total sample to eliminate the impact of what are called measurement errors. Koerth-Baker writes:

Non-citizens who vote represent a tiny subpopulation of both non-citizens in general and of the larger community of American voters. Studying them means zeroing in on a very small percentage of a much larger sample. That massive imbalance in sample size makes it easier for something called measurement error to contaminate the data. Measurement error is simple: It’s what happens when people answer a survey or a poll incorrectly.1 If you’ve ever checked the wrong box on a form, you know how easy it can be to screw this stuff up. Scientists are certainly aware this happens. And they know that, most of the time, those errors aren’t big enough to have much impact on the outcome of a study. But what constitutes “big enough” will change when you’re focusing on a small segment of a bigger group. Suddenly, a few wrongly placed check marks that would otherwise be no big deal can matter a lot.

This is what critics of the original paper say happened to the claim that non-citizens are voting in election-shaping numbers:

Of the 32,800 people surveyed by CCES in 2008 and the 55,400 surveyed in 2010, 339 people and 489 people, respectively, identified themselves as non-citizens.2 Of those, Chattha found 38 people in 2008 who either reported voting or who could be verified through other sources as having voted. In 2010, there were just 13 of these people, all self-reported. It was a very small sample within a much, much larger one. If some of those people were misclassified, the results would run into trouble fast. Chattha and Richman tried to account for the measurement error on its own, but, like the rest of their field, they weren’t prepared for the way imbalanced sample ratios could make those errors more powerful. Stephen Ansolabehere and Brian Schaffner, the Harvard and University of Massachusetts Amherst professors who manage the CCES, would later say Chattha and Richman underestimated the importance of measurement error — and that mistake would challenge the validity of the paper.

Koerth-Baker argues that Chatta (the undergraduate) and Richman, the authors of the original paper are not really to blame for what came next — the appropriation of this result as a partisan weapon in the voter-suppression wars.  She writes, likely correctly in my view, that political science and related fields are more prone to problems of methodology, and especially in handling the relatively  new (to these disciplines) pitfalls of big, or even medium-data research. The piece goes on to look at how and why this kind of not-great research can have such potent political impact, long after professionals within the field have recognized problems and moved on.  A sample of that analysis:

This isn’t the only time a single problematic research paper has had this kind of public afterlife, shambling about the internet and political talk shows long after its authors have tried to correct a public misinterpretation and its critics would have preferred it peacefully buried altogether. Even retracted papers — research effectively unpublished because of egregious mistakes, misconduct or major inaccuracies — sometimes continue to spread through the public consciousness, creating believers who use them to influence others and drive political discussion, said Daren Brabham, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California who studies the interactions between online communities, media and policymaking. “It’s something scientists know,” he said, “but we don’t really talk about.”

These papers — I think of them as “zombie research” — can lead people to believe things that aren’t true, or, at least, that don’t line up with the preponderance of scientific evidence. When that happens — either because someone stumbled across a paper that felt deeply true and created a belief, or because someone went looking for a paper that would back up beliefs they already had — the undead are hard to kill.

There’s lots more at the link.  Highly recommended.  At the least, it will arm you for battle w. Facebook natterers screaming about non-existent voter fraud “emergency.”

Image: William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election: The Polling, 1754-55

Breaking News: The FBI is Moving!

It is unclear which firm this involves.

In other news that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, at the 1:50 mark of Senator Markey’s interview with CNN yesterday, he himself broke some interesting news:

It appears that Senator Markey has confirmed the RUMINT that NY state Attorney General Schneiderman has convened a grand jury to investigate the President, his business, his business operations, and his business associates.

Oh and the President has admitted that he called James Comey and directly asked him if he was under investigation and that Comey told him he was not (as well as on two other occasions – once at dinner and one other phone call):

We now return you to your regularly schedule Thursday afternoon.

Stay frosty!

Breaking: Grand Jury Issues Subpoenas in FBI’s Russia Investigation

Washington (CNN)Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.
Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. The US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, the Justice Department and the FBI also declined to comment.
CNN reports that this was not just leaked tonight – they’ve been working on the story for several days. And their reporting is a sign that it will not be easy for the Administration to simply make this all go away now that they’ve fired James Comey. Though the President’s surrogates are making those suggestions as they make the rounds on cable news this evening.
Andrea Chalupa reported earlier this evening, on her twitter feed, that:
Source: Comey at the “rocket docket” yesterday in Virginia that expedites cases, submitting intel. Trump panicked.
Members of Congress, in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle, are now calling for a special prosecutor and/or an independent investigation. Pressure will continue to build. And we do not have to passively wait and see what happens. We can help to increase the pressure. Call your members of Congress, both representatives and senators. Tell them you expect them to support the appointment of a special prosecutor and the creation of an independent investigation. Tell your senators that you expect them to take no action on the nomination for a new FBI Director until the Administration provides answers. Tell both your representatives and your senators that you expect no business that is not absolutely necessary to keep the government functioning, such as raising the debt ceiling, to be conducted until a special prosecutor is appointed, an independent investigation is established, and the Administration is forthcoming with answers. Tell them this is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of patriotism. Of country before party. And that you will vote against any senator or representative that puts party before country. America exists because of the participation of its citizenry in a self governing republic. Now we all must take the steps necessary to conserve and preserve our inheritance as Americans for those Americans yet to come. The fate of the Republic is in all of our hands. It is worth fighting for even if it isn’t perfect. And fighting for it is far better than giving in to despair.

We Are Not Escalating Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, or Much of Anything Else, Despite the Clickbait Headlines

A number of commenters were concerned last night, and rightly so, about reporting that seemed to indicate that the Administration is considering escalating US operations in Afghanistan. These operations are currently called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and were referred to as Operation Enduring Freedom through the end of 2014. When you actually dive into the reporting you find something much more routine is being proposed.

Senior Trump administration and military officials are recommending sending several thousand additional American troops to Afghanistan to try to break a military deadlock in the 15-year war there, in part by pressuring the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

The added troops would allow American advisers to work with a greater number of Afghan forces, and closer to the front lines.

The recommendation, which has yet to be approved by President Trump, is the product of a broad review by the Pentagon, the State Department, intelligence community and other government agencies on America’s longest war. It is broadly consistent with advice Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, gave Congress in February.

Warning that the United States and its NATO allies faced a “stalemate,” General Nicholson told lawmakers that he had a shortfall of a “few thousand” troops and said more personnel would enable the American military to advise the Afghan military more effectively and at lower levels in the chain of command.

American officials said that 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, could be sent. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

NATO nations would also be asked to send thousands of troops, and the precise number of American forces deployed would probably depend on what those allies were prepared to do.

Read more

Time for a Media Reset

Someone sounds awfully worried about Sally Yates’ testimony before the senate today:

Yates will be questioned this afternoon about her warning to the Trump people regarding Flynn’s Russia problem. So Trump is preemptively intimidating her like a sub-literate mafia goon while simultaneously blaming the Obama administration for his own shitty personnel decisions.

President Obama FIRED Flynn before Trump picked him off the trash heap, wound him up and sent him on the “LOCK HER UP!” tour. And apparently Trump’s band of grifting idiots didn’t bother to vet the utterly compromised crackpot Flynn before sharing highly classified information with him as erstwhile NSA. But President “The Buck Stops Anywhere But Here” can’t be bothered with such details.

What are we to conclude from this, aside from the obvious, which is that the person who occupies the Oval Office is a lying, irresponsible, addled dolt — which we already knew? He’s worried about this Russia thing, which just won’t go away. Should he be?

I hope very much that the Russia investigation turns up a bombshell that removes Trump from office, but I have zero faith it will. Comey is a preening hack who seems convinced that hostility from Republicans and Democrats validates his “last honest man in D.C.” conceit. The GOP controls congress, and they’ve already sold out the country to a demented demagogue, so they’ll hamstring every investigation that could endanger their hold on power.

But 2018 hasn’t happened yet, and there’s still time to prevent the next round of interference. The Democrats have their role to play to stop a hostile foreign power from undermining democracy. The FBI and intelligence communities have theirs. And the media has a responsibility here too.

This might sound like a crazy suggestion, but maybe media outlets like the NYT, etc., could use recent developments abroad as well as upcoming events like the Yates testimony as an excuse to reset the way they approach the gigantic elephant in the room: a hostile foreign power’s ongoing meddling in U.S. elections. The way their colleagues in France dealt with a similar attempt by the same outfits to sleaze a fascist into power might be instructive.

Yates’ testimony is expected to directly contradict what Spicer and Priebus told the media about Team Trump’s handling of Flynn. Trump, knowing the testimony is likely to be damaging, implied that Yates committed a crime in the above tweet. We know Trump lied about President Obama’s “wire tapp” — the mainstream press was surprisingly forthright in saying so. I guess there’s a slim chance they’ll treat Trump’s slander of Yates in a similar manner.

I understand that ironic detachment and profitable horse race babbling are tough addictions to overcome, but it’s no exaggeration to say democracy is on the line. And while the Beltway hacks like to pretend they don’t want to be part of the story, the opposite is true: they glory in a scenario that allows them to be players rather than merely covering the game.

Well, here’s your chance, hacks. The Trump administration has lied to you and vilified you for months. You’ve refused to engage in serious introspection about your 2016 political coverage, but here’s a flashing red neon scandal that doesn’t even require that: a recognition that this meddling isn’t going away, and a chance to do something about it. Go be little Murrows. Your country needs you, God help us.

Late Night Open Thread: Notes on the French Election, and Ours

The Spam Defense

Interesting write-up at The Daily Beast on how the Macron campaign may have foiled Russia’s attempt to undermine another Western democracy via fascist hack-holster Assange:

As the news broke, suspicion focused on the same “Fancy Bear” Russian hackers who fiddled with the American presidential campaign last year. As The Daily Beast reported 10 days earlier, they have been working hard for the election of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-European Union, anti-euro, anti-NATO, anti-American, Pro-Trump Le Pen.

Literally at the 11th hour, before the blackout would silence it, the Macron campaign issued a statement saying it had been hacked and many of the documents that were dumped on the American 4Chan site and re-posted by Wikileaks were fakes.

The mainstream French media carried the Macron campaign statement, but virtually nothing else. In addition to the normal proscription of campaign “propaganda” on election eve, the government issued a statement saying specifically that anyone disseminating the materials in this dump in France could be liable to prosecution, and calling on the media to shoulder their “responsibility” by steering clear of them.

Meanwhile, Wikileaks jumped on the document dump, but didn’t seem to be familiar with the material in it. Responding to the Macron statement that some of the items were bogus, Wikileaks tweeted, “We have not yet discovered fakes in #MacronLeaks & we are very skeptical that the Macron campaign is faster than us.”

Ah, but there’s the rub. As reported by The Daily Beast, part of the Macron campaign strategy against Fancy Bear (also known as Pawn Storm and Apt28) was to sign on to the phishing pages and plant bogus information.

“You can flood these [phishing] addresses with multiple passwords and log-ins, true ones, false ones, so the people behind them use up a lot of time trying to figure them out,” Mounir Mahjoubi, the head of Macron’s digital team, told The Daily Beast for its earlier article on this subject.

This might be one option for political campaigns that want to participate in elections free of Putin’s influence. In the U.S., it’s clear Republicans aren’t going to do anything to ensure the integrity of our electoral processes, not as long as interference favors them. We’re on our own.