The Letter TomPaine
Eventually Did Print
Oliver T. Dawshed
The following exchange of letters appeared in TomPaine.com
on 5/20/05, ten days after Russ Baker's original article,
and buried in a section that few readers see. It is
reproduced with permission.
I hope people will take away from this the exchange:
it is not unusual that two or more competing models
offer an explanation. With the Ohio exit polls, scientists
and academics are trying to unravel what happened. This
takes time. On the other hand, there are people who
lack the qualifications to understand the issues without
translation. Those people tend to inflame, rather than
inform the debate.
basic issues, as I see them, are these:
could explain the Ohio exit polls either
as evidence of fraud or as incompetent exit
person who could do the most to resolve the issue,
Warren Mitofsky of Edison/Mitofsky exit polling
has not made the data freely available. Failure
to share data raises alarms among those who have
dealt with intellectual fraud before. That concern
may not be justified, but failure to share data
inevitably raises suspicions
main model explaining the exit polls as pollster
error (called the "Shy Republican" or
"Reluctant Responder" model) has problems,
points that are not easily explained.
are reasons external to the exit polls, such as
the Conyers Report, that make fraud a more plausible
Fraud is not likely to be regarded as proven unless
someone comes forward to confess. That's unlikely. We
only know about Iran-Contra because a plane crashed.
But circumstances do not allow us to remain indifferent
or passive. Each of us has to reach a determination
as to what happened and act accordingly. Even absent
complete evidence, we have to decide which side we are
I believe that our freedoms, especially the freedom
to choose our leaders based on facts and not smears,
have been stolen from us. This exchange of letters is
one small part of making the case, hoping to persuade
you, the reader, that justice is on this side, and not
on the side of ignoring questions of electoral fraud.
But, please, choose a side.
think Russ Baker's reply illustrates my point about
inflaming, rather informing. Unlike him, I want my opponent
to have his say, because he makes a better case against
himself than anything I could say.
After reviewing his reply, readers may enjoy reading
our FAQ, point #13 on why Using a Pen Name is a Sign of Moral Turpitude.
Baker evidently doesn't know the joke's on him.
Re: What Didn't Happen In Ohio by Russ Baker
Let me say in advance that I do not have a dog in this
fight. One of the assumptions implicit in Professor
Steven Freeman's analysis of the exit polls is that
the polls were competently designed and honestly reported.
When I read the Edison/Mitofsky
report and tried to coax his organization into
facilitating access to data, it became evident that
there was no basis to assume that. This is not to detract
from Freeman's analysis, which is probably right, but
merely to say that I would want to scrutinize Mitofsky's
data and methodology much more closely before drawing
conclusions from it.
journalistic deficiencies in Baker's article are capsulized
in one simple observation regarding his methods of reasoning.
Mr. Baker assures us that the academics who believe
the exit polls indicate a Kerry win are insufficiently
trained in the science of poll interpretation.
So, who are the paladins he trots out to defeat their
arguments? Warren Mitofsky, whose company
and future stand or fall on the work under discussion.
A psychology graduate student who has written a children's
book. A bachelor's level graduate with some graduate
coursework in polling (and many years working as
an employee of polling firms). And someone with no relevant credentials (but plenty of chutzpah), Rick Brady
). Brady's work actually contradicts Baker's implied characterization
of it, saying "Dr. Freeman is right in concluding
that statistical explanations of the discrepancy of
the discrepancy to date are inadequate."
people can, of course, be right when senior people are
wrong. Mr. Baker's trump cards, however, deliver an
for Liddle's work, let us stipulate that it is
an original, interesting, and positive contribution
that deserves to be recognized in any debate of exit
polling. However, as she concedes in a footnote, her
work does not refute the possibility that the vote was
miscounted. It only provides an alternate explanation.
is in the body of the work that her lack of experience
shows. She makes a great deal out of the fact
that "Whole Precinct Error" (WPE) is not perfectly
independent of precinct partisanship. A secret that
one learns only outside of the classroom is that real-life
data are not usually as obliging as those in textbooks.
Confounding of the variables is not unusual, a fact
that Liddle might have learned from her recent experience on the Florida vote , but evidently has not. Rather, contrary to
the available evidence (combined response rates in strong
Kerry precincts were actually lower than in strong Bush
precincts), she accepts as plausible the notion that
Bush voters were less likely to respond to pollsters.
Since the quality of the data is uncertain, her model
is not automatically disqualified, but she needed to
do a good job of explaining the point, and didn't.
also failed to do checks of her model that an experienced
researcher would have done. One (extremely obvious)
check is looking at more than one state. For the limited
data she analyzed, as Josh Mitteldorf of Temple University
pointed out to me, her model predicts that WPE will
go to zero at both extremes of partisanship. In the
real data, this does not appear to be the case in strong
Bush precincts. In those strong Bush precincts, the
median is much higher than the mean. In layman's terms,
this means that there are a few precincts with very
high WPE, and some with very low WPE. Low WPE precincts
would not contradict Liddle's hypothesis, but the high
WPE precincts suggest a question.
I think that the vice president of USCountVotes, Bruce
Odell may have answered the question Liddle should have
asked on WPE by noting that any model should explain
not only the WPE, but also the response rate and any
differences between mean vs. median. Out of courtesy
to Odell, I will leave it to him to present his results
at the opportune time. But neither Liddle nor Odell
is the point of this letter. Apparently, Russ Baker
lacked the courtesy to talk to USCV and he can't plead
a lack of journalistic experience. In his case, it comes
across as a lapse of journalistic integrity.
sense that Baker is going outside the ethic of normal
journalism is amplified by a number of other troublesome
aspects of his article. He said he did "spot checks
on a few popular fraud anecdotes" to conclude that
there was no serious problem with the election. Evidently,
he missed the Conyers report, which questioned
whether Ohio's electors were lawfully chosen.
Baker's main thesis, the notion that those of us who
question the election should shut up, is based on an
appeal to anonymous authority ("many Democratic
officials, election reform advocates, and analysts").
Appeals to authority are always questionable, but appeals
to anonymous authorities are laughable. Using writers
of limited credentials to disparage or belittle writers
of greater credentials is an ugly tactic, one employed
by proponents of so-called "intelligent design"
and opponents of the theory of global warming in their
war on science. Misrepresentation of Rick Brady's
actual conclusions was egregious, and should have been
caught by an editor.
interpretation of the exit polls will be argued out
over time. As is common in these situations, more than
one model may fit the data. Reaching a fair evaluation
may require looking outside the limited set of data
Warren Mitofsky has made feely available. Russ Baker
and TomPaine, however, have taken a pre-emptive strike
against the truth by rushing into print with a weakly
founded and poorly researched article. In this, they
have politicized what should be a scientific issue and
done much harm . . . especially to their own reputations.
Dawshed acts as an informal advisor to USCountVotes.org,
the organization whose work on the 2004 exit polls was
attacked in Baker's piece. This letter is strictly his
Mr. Dawshed criticizes me for citing "many Democratic
officials, election reform advocates and analysts" who
aren’t convinced from the evidence that a large-scale
“theft” occurred in Ohio - as opposed to individual
acts of incompetency, obstructionism, etc. “Appeals
to authority are always questionable, but anonymous
ones are laughable,” he declares.
that’s a good one. Because “Oliver Dawshed” is not this
person’s real name. For whatever reason, the person
behind the fictional “Dawshed” employs a pseudonym.
So much for laughable anonymous appeals.
On to other matters. In a widely circulated e-mail,
Mr. “Dawshed” accused TomPaine of not publishing his
original letter. Yet TomPaine never received that letter.
The very fact that Mr. Dawshed would rush to an incorrect
conclusion about TomPaine’s desire to censor debate
- and distribute that allegation without even checking
first - tells you something about him and his methodology.
What about bias? Dawshed says he does “not have a dog
in this fight.” Read on to his bio following the letter,
where casually mentions that “acts as an informal advisor
to USCountVotes.org.” No dog in the fight? It’s a Doberman.
Dawshed criticizes me for not calling the USCV folks
for comment. This perplexes me. USCV has already published
their material and circulated it widely. In my writing
in TomPaine, which is principally a journal of opinion
and not a daily newspaper, I remark upon USCV’s work.
There’s no obligation in that format to call for comment,
and, given the extensive USCV argumentation on display,
no apparent point. Finally, I’d just note this hypocrisy
- neither “Dawshed” nor his cohorts who write about
me have ever called me to ask any questions either.
Dawshed says that the work by Brady, whom I cite, is
actually at odds with my own point. Hardly. Brady says
only that USCV’s Freeman “is right in concluding that
statistical explanations” offered thus far about the
discrepancy are inadequate. By this, he doesn’t mean
to agree with Freeman on anything of substance, just
that he feels Mitofsky’s people need to more extensively
document their claims.
Warren Mitofsky: They suggest that he is part of a deliberate
cover-up. Here’s their proof: He blames the gap between
exit polls and the final tabulated result on screw-ups
with his own product rather than “fraud.” Rationally
speaking, if Mitofsky’s future really depends on the
outcome here, as Dawshed says, then he should be arguing
for the accuracy and quality of his work, which he is
not doing. Perhaps Mitofsky is actually an honest man.
Now that’s a shocking notion.
Since the editors at TomPaine asked that I be brief,
I won’t go point by point over all of the aspersions
Mr. “Dawshed” casts on me and on those whom I believe
offer credible critiques of the conspiracy theory. As
for his contention that I misrepresent aspects of their
analysis, I’ll just note that none of them has contacted
me to say so.
Finally, let me urge open-minded readers to focus on
the bottom line: Those who attack me because I say I
don’t see evidence of a conspiracy to steal the election
through either computers or some other means are not
interested in a fair and open inquiry. They are angry,
and no one - even a friendly skeptic - can be spared.
© 2005 TomPaine.com
( A Project of The Institute for America's Future)
© Oliver T. Dawshed. All Rights
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