The Worst Presentation Award Goes To…

Boffo blog tells the story of a Lott presentation at a workshop about a decade ago:

I was not prepared for how truly awful the paper was. His argument concerned how expensive elections have become in this country. … His evidence consisted of a correlation between growth in federal spending and growth in campaign spending, and from that he concluded that Big Government caused expensive campaigns. Two lines trending upwards, and he claims with perfect seriousness—and without performing any of the necessary tests—that the one causes the other. When we pressed him on his analysis, not only had he not performed any appropriate tests, but he seemed wholly unfamiliar with the relevant econometrics literature. … Afterward, we agreed that it was the worst presentation any of us had ever seen at the workshop, worse than any first-year grad student’s.

Yes, there is a reason why Lott could not get a tenure-track job in academia.

Comments

  1. #1 Terry Josiah
    December 24, 2004

    You are posting a an opinion of a workshop presentation that occured a decade agoas proof of Lotts incompetence?
    Utterly ridiculous.
    How did you get a tenure track job in academia? Not by presenting an opinion that is a decade old as fact, thats for sure.
    You Dr. Lambert make the case against tenure because its obvious you lose your analytical skills and intellectual integrity after you obtain tenure. Your too comfortable.

    If Lott is such an academia joke, why do you spend so much time posting about him?
    Why is he worthy Professor if he is so intellectually pathetic?

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    December 24, 2004

    You are very confused, Terry. I posted it as an opinion. It does not, by itself, prove that Lott is incompetent, but it is one more piece of evidence and agrees with the other evidence presented here.

    Read the linked post. If you feel that the author is wrong, feel free to discuss it with him or her.

  3. #3 caerbannog
    December 24, 2004


    How did you get a tenure track job in academia? Not by presenting an opinion that is a decade old as fact, thats for sure.

    There’s a big difference between presenting decade-old opinions on a privately-run blog and presenting those opinions at a workshop where one is trying to demonstrate his research skills in front of a bunch of potential employers.


    If Lott is such an academia joke, why do you spend so much time posting about him? Why is he worthy Professor if he is so intellectually pathetic?

    Perhaps Dr. Lambert feels compelled to serve as a counterweight to John Lott’s fans (like Mary Rosh).

  4. #4 Ian Gould
    December 25, 2004

    For Tim’s behaviour to even vaguely resemble Lott’s he woudl first have to secretly be the blogger who posted the article on Lott’s presentation and secondly try and pass it off as serious research.

  5. #5 : You might want to actually read the paper
    December 28, 2004

    It seems that the author is having some difficulty remembering the paper because it uses year fixed effects. The claim that “His evidence consisted of a correlation between growth in federal spending and growth in campaign spending, and from that he concluded that Big Government caused expensive campaigns. Two lines trending upwards, and he claims with perfect seriousness — and without performing any of the necessary tests — that the one causes the other.” doesn’t make much sense with year fixed effects because that simple upward trend would have been picked up with those variables.

  6. #6 : You might want to actually read the paper
    December 28, 2004

    It seems that the author is having some difficulty remembering the paper because it uses year fixed effects. The claim that “His evidence consisted of a correlation between growth in federal spending and growth in campaign spending, and from that he concluded that Big Government caused expensive campaigns. Two lines trending upwards, and he claims with perfect seriousness — and without performing any of the necessary tests — that the one causes the other.” doesn’t make much sense with year fixed effects because that simple upward trend would have been picked up with those variables.

  7. #7 : You might want to actually read the paper
    December 28, 2004

    It seems that the author is having some difficulty remembering the paper because it uses year fixed effects. The claim that “His evidence consisted of a correlation between growth in federal spending and growth in campaign spending, and from that he concluded that Big Government caused expensive campaigns. Two lines trending upwards, and he claims with perfect seriousness — and without performing any of the necessary tests — that the one causes the other.” doesn’t make much sense with year fixed effects because that simple upward trend would have been picked up with those variables.

  8. #8 : You might want to actually read the paper
    December 28, 2004

    It seems that the author is having some difficulty remembering the paper because it uses year fixed effects. The claim that “His evidence consisted of a correlation between growth in federal spending and growth in campaign spending, and from that he concluded that Big Government caused expensive campaigns. Two lines trending upwards, and he claims with perfect seriousness — and without performing any of the necessary tests — that the one causes the other.” doesn’t make much sense with year fixed effects because that simple upward trend would have been picked up with those variables.

  9. #9 Agricola
    December 28, 2004

    Is this the first public statement regarding Lott;s teaching standards that wasnt written by Lott himself?

  10. #10 Boffo
    December 30, 2004

    I retrieved the paper from my files, the only one I saved from grad school for its poor quality. To respond to the anonymous(?) commenter above, it is true that a version is available at the SSRN archive for all to peruse. The one I wrote about in my original post was presented five years before the date of the archived version and there were some revisions made in the meantime.

    That said, both the 1995 and the 2000 versions suffer from too many weaknesses to catalog here, so let me mention a few briefly. First, for half of the 16 states in the dataset there are very few elections observed, and so whatever power his analysis has comes from only 8 of 50 states. Second, there is no control for what most would agree was the single greatest factor contributing to the rise in campaign costs, the rising cost of advertising. Third, relatedly, the specifications do little to answer the “correlation is not causation” dilemma. Both statistically and theoretically, he tells us only that in a given calendar year state spending increases for a given state and so does its campaign spending. Even were one to grant this, it tells us nothing about the causual structure. Does this occur simultaneously? For example, do contributors and candidates anticipate early in the election cycle what budget the legislature is likely to pass at the end of the fiscal year and calibrate their campaign spending accordingly? The one specification that includes a lagged variable addresses only the narrow question of whether past campaign spending leads to future government spending, without directly addressing the mechanism.

    With respect to the first and second points, I am disappointed he did not take the extra five years to gather more data. With respect to the third point, it is too bad that those five years did not also provide him an opportunity to develop a theoretical argument that explains the observed relationship. Indeed, in looking over the bibliography, the paper was stuck in something of a time warp from early 1996; this is a shame, since in the years between then and the 2000 date on the cover page there was quite a bit of good and sophisticated research on the question of campaign spending. Ultimately, as I said in my original post, it amounts to two lines trending upwards and little explanation why they do or even if they’re related.

    There are also a few odd differences in the results between the 1995 and 2000 papers, but I’ll withhold judgment on those. Even the more suspicious of them (eg, a coefficient flipping signs while keeping the same magnitude) might have an innocent explanation give that the specifications were not identical. At a minimum, however, they raise questions.

  11. #11 Tim Lambert
    December 30, 2004

    Well, if he really did include year dummies that would control for national trends in the cost of advertising. But then of course, that means he doesn’t explain why campaign expenses are increasing — the year dummies “explain” that. At very best he’s explained some part of the increase.

  12. #12 Boffo
    December 31, 2004

    You’re right — the year dummies would soak up the advertising increases as well as anything else that increased year-to-year (e.g., number of political action committees registered, which also rose during the period) which he did not control for explicitly in the models. One might suppose that the number of PACs is related in some way to the size of government, but this is a more specific claim he never explores. And since he never reported the coefficients for the year dummies, let alone those for the state dummies, we cannot compare their magnitude with the “size of government” variables he uses. Even if the small number of states is not a problem for generalizing about all U.S. state-level elections (big if), we don’t know whether his findings are meaningful relative to these other annual increases. Thus, to say as he does that campaigns are more expensive because government is bigger assumes what is not shown.

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