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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Don't Feed the Grifters

[NOTE FROM JASON, 10/25/17 12:14 EDT -- I'm opening up the Blogger comments at the bottom of this post so that there can be a linear record of this conversation rather than Twitter threading, which is hard to follow... don't make me regret it, kids!]
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A year ago, leading up to the election, one of my biggest worries wasn't yet what Comey's influence on the election was going to be, but rather what the impact of voter suppression would be.

On election night, watching the results come in, I sat at a volunteer desk at Hillary's Brooklyn HQ and scanned county-level maps in MI and WI long before the states were called for Trump. MI was going to be tight because the turnout in the Western suburbs of Detroit (like Dearborn and Ann Arbor) was far lighter than it had to be. WI, on the other hand, was lost. I looked at the numbers coming in from Milwaukee and Madison versus the rest of the state and saw what would turn out to be an insurmountable Trump advantage. The fringe Obama voters hadn't turned out... Or had they?

Days after the election theories were flying about faulty voting machines, Russian hacks, long lines of people being turned back, and people being denied for not satisfying the overtly racist Voter ID laws. The first two were an easy out: it wasn't our fault. America knew better than Trump but Russia stopped her from electing Hillary Clinton. I still believe that there was some illegitimate vote tampering that will be discovered as the evidence continues to roll in. But some took it on their own initiative to examine precinct-level results in Wisconsin and found a correlation between precincts that used voting machines and precincts that went for Trump. Fivethirtyeight looked into it and so did Nate Cohn:
I wanted to believe that there was some merit to their findings but I replicated the results that the two Nates each independently put out and came to the same conclusions. When you factor in demographics, the impact of voting machines comes out to be statistically insignificant.

Along came Mike Farb (@mikefarb1) who promised his own independent investigation. I, along with many others, followed him and waited to see what he would come up with. His initial results, while captivating, were really just a rehash of the New York magazine piece which had already been disproven. Curious, I asked him for his methodology:







It soon became apparent that he was not looking for help, rather he wanted to continue asking for donations to support his dubious results.


He continued to ignore my requests and then went on to Tweet about how Southern States had been experiencing stolen votes since the Nineties. Basically he was ignoring the party realignment that had occurred. Instead, he was chalking up the Republicans' statewide election wins to stolen votes. Of course, anyone who did in minute bit of research about politics in the South would know that while registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans, many white Democrats were just residual dixiecrats who had not yet switched party affiliations, but had become reliable Republican votes since 1994.


Each week he put out more graphs and charts without any formal methodology. Finally, I called him out on it. I ask him for his methodology once again and one of his associates pointed me to his website. I outlined three major points that were wrong with his work, and offered to help:




























For a full account (since I was blocked shortly there after and his replies are unavailable to me), just do a twitter search for "@mikefarb1 @tgccombover."


As a statistician, it is abundantly clear to me that Mike Farb wants no part of an actual statistical methodology because that would show his results are junk. And it's exceedingly tough to grift people when you don't even have the appearance of something to offer them.

If you want to continue reading him, that's great. We could all use a little bit of fiction. But please don't feed the grifters.

UPDATE: Looks like I'm not the only statistician he's blocked.

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