A Laundry List of Grievances Won't Cut It

Jay Cost of Real Clear Politics is unimpressed with Sean Wilentz’s recent proclamation in Rolling Stone Magazine that President Bush is the worst president in history. Here’s why:

Wilentz has failed to operationalize his theory. This is what we do when we say, “The economy is doing well. Look at the rate of growth.” The rate of growth is an operationalization of the economy’s well being. Failing to operationalize is a critical mistake. Without it, you cannot connect your evidence to your theory. If you do not have a clear idea of how your theory specifically operates in the world, you do not know what to look for in the data. If you do not know what to look for in the data, you can always bring forth evidence that seems to support your point, but you have no way to judge whether it counts as real evidence. After all, you have not identified what your theory predicts and what it does not. Thus, you cannot judge if you are right or wrong. And if there is no way to judge whether you are right or wrong, there is no difference between your answer and the answer to a Rorschach test. You necessarily find that for which you searched, but the audience only learns something about you.

In Wilentz’s case, he has all of this data about Bush, but he never sets up what we should expect to find in the data if Bush is indeed the worst president. Thus, the fact that Wilentz has concluded that Bush is the worst really only indicates that Wilentz does not like him. His data is little more than an exhaustive, unconnected laundry list of grievances.

Kind of like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.

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Rolling Stone Mag: Bush Worst President in History?

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6 Comments

  1. smitty April 28, 2006
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  3. Dave Schuler April 28, 2006
  4. the pistolero April 28, 2006
  5. Nicole May 11, 2006