Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Statistics for the Completely Confused

It's things like this that make the IDS my favorite newspaper. Today's staff editorial argues (sensibly) that proposed legislation to fine vendors who sell objectionable video games to children will be ineffective for the two simple reasons that (a) these policies don't generally work anyway (look at alcohol and minors) and (b) the problem of violence is just a teeeeeeny bit more complex than what video games a kid plays. Right - so what does this rational article have to do with the IDS, you ask? Weeeeelll, it was followed by a dissent.

In brief:

A 2000 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that those who played violent video games were more likely to commit delinquent behavior.

Great! Soooooo....you're saying there's a correlation between violent video game playing and violent behavior? Wow! I never would've thought of it myself - but now that you mention it, just because two variables are correlated definitely does mean that there's a causal relationship between them. Well, unless there's a third variable, I mean. You know, the way that there are more churches in areas with higher crime not because churches cause crime (or crime causes churches) so much as just becuse where there are more people, there are also more churches and more crime. It's the population count - i.e. a third (unconsidered) variable that is really responsible. So OK, I mean, I guess in this case it might be that children who are naturally more prone to violence (for whatever reason) are also naturally more inclined to play violent video games. You know, they don't tend to choose Tetris or SimCity when the gory options are available.

But OK, OK - leaving that option aside, clearly two variables that are correlated are in a causal relationship. So - this is rock-solid evidence that playing violent video games causes children to behave violently. Well, unless it means that behaving violently causes them to play violent video games. You know, the directionality might be wrong. It might be that behaving violently puts them in the mood for violent video...

You get the point. I don't care what purely correlational study says what - establishing a correlation doesn't really tell you a whole lot without taking proper care when looking at your information. I personally find it a whole lot more plausible to believe that children who are already prone to violence also happen to select violent video games than to try to get my mind around the idea that what OBVIOUSLY fantasy-based images fly across the screen would actually cause a kid to misbehave at school!

Here's where it gets really silly:

However, holding retailers accountable, as this proposed legislation would, will have a dual effect. It will deter the sale of inappropriate games to children who simply avoid parental permission. And more importantly, it will protect those children whose parents are not responsible enough to make correct decisions for their children.

Come again? How is a law that fines people who sell video games to unaccompanied children supposed to protect us from irresponsible parents? I mean, has your logic circuit completely misfired? The whole point of the law, Wondermoron, is to reintroduce the middleman to make sure parents can adequately screen what their children are doing! Such a low can't POSSIBLY have an effect on those situations where the parents are already irresponsible! To follow this bit of "reasoning," you would have to be in a position to believe that all and only the irresponsible parents fail to be present in the store when their children buy video games. You know, that it never, ever, ever possibly happens that an irresponsible parent just buys the kid something to shut him up, not bothering to look at what's on the label, or just flat-out doesn't care, or...or to put a fine point on it, what's a guy this stupid doing in charge of the IDS opinion section? (It's signed "Jacob Stewart" on the online version.)

Here's the gem:

Who is the state to decide responsible behavior? It is the entity with the power to deter children from potentially damaging material, effectively raising productive citizens and keeping them out of the Indiana jail system.

Or, maybe it's the entity that also PUTS people in the Indiana jail system. I mean, on the one hand, I appreciate that at least this one is honest enough to admit that he's advocating a full-out nanny state. On the other (more important) hand - he's advocating a full-out nanny state. This guy actually wants the state taking an active role in raising kids because he thinks that's what it's for. Amazing. Maybe we could just set up daycares and send all kids there from ages 4 to 16. Then the state could have total control over the environment and teach them also how to be good factory workers and soldiers, how to never cheat on their taxes or drink on Sunday, cry at the national anthem, and so on. Yeah?

Thanks, but I'll pass. I think - and this is a novel idea, so just work with me here - that probably parents should raise their own kids. And the government should leave them alone and let them do it. And the government should also leave the rest of us alone as much as possible. And just in general we should decide for ourselves what kind of content is appropriate and what is not. And maybe the world isn't perfect - but I'll bet good money that if you want to improve it, turning to an all-powerful bureaucracy and asking that to try to fix it well...just isn't a very good idea.

If you want to get the government involved in something, how about we require basic statistics education in university instead? Oh yeah, and a little light reading on Constitutional liberties while you're at it.


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