Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, October 02, 2015

Updating Matthew Arnold

for the world, which, after we've had our morning coffee, seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new...

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Just Show Me the Path

When I was in high school, I would frequently go to the chapel and pray.  I always asked for the same thing:  show me the path.  Show me the way, and I will follow it.

I have come to realize that at this point in my life, while I don't have a particularly firm grasp on very much, I do have a decent conception of what the right path forward is for me.  So in that sense, my prayer has been answered.  But unfortunately the premise of my question, that I would gladly follow any clear path that was laid out before me, has turned out to be questionable.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I Disagree with the Ubermenschen

In a departure from my normal blog topics, I'm going to write about taxi regulation and regulatory policy generally. I'm going to start with a little side-discussion, which you can skip if you only care about the sexy Uber debate.

Side Discussion: Regulatory Policy and Distributional Concerns

In general, U.S. consumer regulation is aimed at making things extremely safe and extremely cheap. The classic example is food safety regulation. I can't find it now, but when New York City started giving letter grades to its restaurants, there was a humorous item in the New York Times in which low-end restaurants with good grades were asked for their tips, which were passed along to fancy restaurants with low grades. The suggestions were along the lines of, "Cook the meat until it is gray all the way through." (I'm probably exaggerating a little, but it was a funny piece.) Of course the same thing goes for cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

Note an important feature of this type of regulation: it enables consumers to choose the absolute cheapest option at the grocery store without trading away safety. In a libertarian society, people would be free to sell contaminated or adulterated food, and consumers would have to pay a premium for safe food. Being "frugal" would mean risking death for you and your family. In the U.S., all of the food is safe, and suppliers compete heavily on the basis of price and quality. There is no premium that consumers have to pay for safety. You can pick the cheapest milk at the store without getting sick. (I'm exaggerating slightly again—food isn't perfectly safe here, but it's reasonably safe. Also, I doubt there is much of a correlation between price and safety. There might even be a negative one.)

The same priorities are visible in airline regulation. It is dirt-cheap to fly in this country, and it is also extremely safe. But it is also very uncomfortable. It didn't have to be this way. Before President Carter deregulated the airlines, flying was comfortable and expensive for everyone. After deregulation, things were basically bifurcated. You could buy a coach ticket and suffer all of the indignities that entails, or you could pay a lot more and fly first-class (or business-class or whatever).

There's a good argument for the Carter approach. But let's point out an alternative. Instead of regulating solely for price and safety, the regulators could also regulate for comfort. (A very quick side note: the antitrust regulators, who can oppose airline mergers on competition grounds, may not be on the same page as the FAA in terms of keeping prices as low as possible. I'm going to ignore that complication.) Imagine that the FAA required a minimum 32" of legroom. (My understanding, based on very little research, is that this is the amount of legroom provided by Southwest and Virgin, but more than the legroom provided by Delta, American, U.S. Air, United, and Spirit.) Now picture a consumer who needs at least 32" of legroom to be comfortable, and who lives in a city that is best served (or solely served) by airlines that provide 31" or less. The FAA's hypothetical legroom regulation makes this consumer much better off: he can fly coach in perfect comfort, whereas in a no-legroom-regulation environment he has to pay for a first-class seat or fly in discomfort.

Who is worse off when we (hypothetically) regulate legroom? Anyone who prefers to pay less and get less legroom. So legroom regulation would result in a lot of consumers paying a little more, and a few consumers paying a lot less. (The latter are the consumers who, absent legroom regulation, would buy first-class seats.) Whether this is a net improvement or not depends on how you weigh these different preferences. Are you tall? Are you rich? Then you probably favor legroom regulation. Are you short? Are you poor? Then you probably don't. There are people who think cost-benefit analysis is well-equipped to make these kinds of distributional determinations. I think that's ridiculous, but that's a discussion for another day.

Back to the Main Discussion: Uber and Pricing

New York City taxis are supremely cheap. This is by regulatory fiat: if a taxi charged more than the going rate, even with the customer's consent, the operator would be punished. Taxis are also unpleasant in a variety of ways. They are not ideally comfortable, and they can be difficult to hail at certain times and in certain places.

Uber represents a simple proposition: the regulators have set the equilibrium in the wrong place. It would be better to establish an equilibrium in which it is about twice as expensive to get from point A to point B (and many multiples of that at certain times), but in which it is easier to hail a car (if you have a smartphone) and the car is more comfortable. Uber also represents the proposition that car service should not be used to subsidize mass transit, and that drivers should be able to decline to pick up certain customers. (Taxi drivers are subject to a surcharge, which funds the MTA, and are not permitted to decline to take anyone anywhere within the 5 boroughs.)

But let's focus on price, since Uber's stance on the MTA surcharge is basically indefensible. Who wins and who loses if Uber comes to dominate the industry? Well, the big winners are people who are willing and able to pay extra for comfort and convenience. These are affluent people who have smartphones. Who loses? Poor people and people without smartphones (there is presumably lots of overlap in these populations). It's the airline example all over again, except now it's not about how tall you are, but solely about how affluent you are and how much you are willing to pay for comfort/convenience. It's pure class war, and Uber is on the side of the rich people.

You might argue that it's okay to bifurcate service between cheap, uncomfortable cabs (for the masses) and expensive, comfortable Uber cars (for the affluent). (This is, of course, how it has always worked, except that the line between the two was drawn much further up the income scale.) Poor people will still be able to get rides at the same old price, the argument goes. But rich people can enjoy better service while paying through the nose. They should be allowed to make that choice.

But that assumes the market can support two equilibria. As Uber takes more and more market share, taxis will thin out and it will be harder and harder to hail them. The customer mix will also change: taxis will serve a disproportionately poor clientele. I assume, perhaps unfairly, that this means that taxi drivers will have to put up with customers who are less likely to pay and less likely to tip generously. Taxi service may become so shitty and unreliable that the equilibrium can't be sustained: the more taxi service shrinks, the more people are driven to Uber, and the dynamic could go all the way to zero taxis. (Bear in mind that the playing field is not level. Taxis are more heavily taxed than Uber and they are subject to a variety of burdensome regulations designed to achieve fairness. So Uber is fighting an opponent that will forever have at least one arm tied behind its back, making it relatively easy to drive taxis out of business entirely.)

Uber loves this prospect. Uber hates any regulation that favors a low-price equilibrium (low prices mean low profits), and Uber is happy to flout the regulations if the regulators aren't sufficiently... cooperative. Uber is also throwing its political weight around, gambling that the upper middle class can be rallied around its banner at the expense of working-class people, who are poorly organized. In American politics, you should generally bet that a coalition of upper-middle-class people is going to beat a coalition of working-class people every time.

That's fundamentally why I despise Uber. Uber is seeking to undermine a regulatory equilibrium that, while far from perfect, serves working-class New Yorkers very well. The best argument for Uber is that by operating what is effectively a taxi service outside the scope of taxi regulations, it will force the regulators to adopt better policy. (This is basically the same as the argument that it's good for some states to have weak environmental regulation, because this will lure employers away from high-regulation states and thus encourage states to improve—that is, weaken—their environmental regulation.) I'm skeptical, because Uber is emphatically not going to start complying with regulations once they permit e-hailng. In fact, the Taxi and Limousine Commission already has an e-hailing pilot program, and yet Uber continues to operate outside the bounds of taxi regulation. Uber's whole business model is inconsistent with price regulation. Uber isn't about e-hailing. It's about charging far more than taxis have traditionally been permitted to charge in New York, while paying fewer taxes and shouldering fewer regulatory burdens. So Uber won't ever comply with a regulatory regime that provides cheap taxi service to New Yorkers.

It is possible to argue that the TLC has gone too far in keeping prices low, just as it is possible to argue that the FAA should regulate comfort. Certainly some people would be better off if taxis were twice as expensive but considerably more comfortable and convenient. But that is the argument people should be making: taxi service is too damn affordable for poor people, and it sucks too much for affluent people. This debate isn't about innovation or "disruption" or free markets. It's about who wins and who loses when we regulate taxicabs. And it's about whether the city gets any say in what taxi service will look like for its citizens.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The GDP Is Too Damn High

One thing I've been thinking about a bit is the way that institutions fight over the territory of our lives.  I think the best way to explain my thought is by example.

Once upon a time the Church held a near-monopoly on sexual gratification.  For devout Catholics, the only sexual gratification that was permitted was sex within a Church-sanctioned marriage.  The effect of this was that people might be drawn into the Church for reasons that had little or nothing to do with spirituality.  If you lived in a traditional Catholic area, you might give the outward appearance of being a devout Catholic, with the goal of obtaining access to sexual gratification.  The Church exacted a kind of tax on you—an actual tax, in the case of tithing, but also a tax in the form of requiring you to conform your behavior to the dictates of the Church.  To some extent this functioned to promote social welfare, since it acted as a constraint on antisocial behaviors like lying and stealing.  It also provided for some degree of redistribution of wealth.

Today, in the United States, it is the market that plays the role traditionally played by the Church.  Sexual gratification isn't strictly allocated by wealth, but there is a definite correlation.  Certainly if we are speaking of long-term sexual commitments, the rich have continued to obtain them while poor and middle-class communities have by and large learned to do without.

Note the full sweep of this parallel.  Men (and to a lesser degree women) participate in the rituals of capitalism for reasons that have little to do with a desire for the things that the market explicitly provides.  They are like cynical worshipers, except that instead of paying a "tax" in the form of avoiding sin, attending church services, etc., they pay a "tax" by accumulating far more wealth than they otherwise would.  They "go to market" not just to obtain toothpaste and diced tomatoes and movie tickets, but to obtain sex and affection.  They dare not stray from the dictates of the market, for the same reason that a member of a traditional Catholic society would not have dared to question the divinity of Jesus.

You may think that I am exaggerating, but I don't think I am.  Imagine if a scientific study reliably established that peak sexual success is obtained at an income of about $150,000 per year, and that anyone earning over $1 million a year essentially can't get laid no matter what.  Do you think that we would observe men working their asses off for big bonuses?  (We might observe the opposite.  During yearly evaluations, bankers would heap derision on themselves, in the hopes of keeping their bonuses small and thus preserving their ability to get laid.)  Would anyone want to run a hedge fund?  Would anyone even want to play professional football?  And I think the same would be true, to a lesser extent, if sexual success merely leveled off at $150,000 and everyone knew it.

The world I am describing might be a worse world than the one we live in.  There are some positive social effects from the hypertrophied economy we have built.  It could be our insatiable appetites are the only chance that poor societies have to pull themselves out of poverty.  And technological advance may be much faster than it would otherwise be, with all kinds of spillover effects for our quality of life and our knowledge of the world around us.  The market gives and it takes away.  It is possible that income inequality would be worse in a low-GDP world because tax revenues would be so much lower.  (But then, a lot of inequality is probably market-driven in the first place.  This is not an easy question to answer, and probably not an important one to think about.)

Anyway my point is really that the market has accomplished its enviable place atop the pantheon of our institutions without most people really noticing it.  The Church was fairly blatant in its efforts at monopolization, and the state loudly proclaims its primacy within its sphere (protesting too much, I think).  But the market is content to let its assumptions and its prejudices seep into our lives until we don't recognize them as alien from ourselves, and then we grind away at work to feed its parasitic appetite.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Little Data on Commute Times

(Actually removing the post entirely because I am pretty certain I've misunderstood the data.  Will write a full post once I figure it out.)

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Necessary Nutrient

In the United States, I believe it is illegal to sell salt unless (A) it contains added iodide, or (B) the package bears a label indicating that it does not supply iodide, "a necessary nutrient."  This policy strikes me as clever, because almost everyone consumes salt.  It would have been far less effective to impose similar requirements on, say, pickled beets.  People crave salt and seek it out—it is one of the most fundamental ingredients in just about all food, probably more common than any other ingredient aside from water.  It is so fundamental that when the British tried to tax it, Gandhi led a march to the sea in protest.  So if you want to make sure people get iodine in their diet, salt is a pretty well-chosen medium.  And indeed I believe iodine deficiency is almost unknown in this country.  (Iodine deficiency can cause goiters and developmental deficits.  Iodine deficiency is common in societies that don't eat much seafood and that don't have pro-iodine policies like ours.)

Now, I suspect that few people would have any patience for the following arguments.

"The government's policy shows an anti-salt bias."

"Society simply has no legitimate interest in preventing goiters or developmental deficits."

"Society has no right to interfere, however mildly, with individual choice when it comes to iodine consumption."

"If people are left to their own devices, decentralized decision-making will lead to the optimal amount of iodine deficiency.  Government intervention is distortionary."

Now consider social norms that link companionship to sex.  The human drive to have sex is incredibly strong and basically drives large sectors of the economy.  (If wealth had zero effect on sexual success, I think our society would look very different and might not exist at all.)  I would guess that a high percentage of marriages and other long-term relationships are formed largely due to sexual considerations.  In other words, in our society sex is a powerful force that contributes tremendously to the elimination of loneliness and social isolation, just as the desire for salt contributes tremendously to the elimination of iodine deficiency.  But this effect is contingent on some linkage between sex and companionship, and this linkage is disappearing as sex becomes more and more orthogonal to companionship.  Meanwhile the complete liberalization of sex is seen as not just inevitable but desirable, something to be celebrated.  The norms that traditionally linked sex to companionship are seen as misogynistic, sex-negative, or simply outdated.  And so we are steadily removing the iodine from the salt, as it were, and the two will increasingly have to stand on their own.

I recognize that our society long had a pathological and bigoted approach to sex-regulation, so it is appropriate to have reservations about society sticking its nose in.  To cite a well-known example, the Catholic Church basically made all forms of sexual gratification, including masturbation, sinful unless they were conducted within Church-sanctioned and -controlled institutions, which were limited to heterosexual people having procreative sex (so, still no masturbation or blow jobs, even inside of marriage).  The Church forced its adherents to confess all illicit sex to Church officials, imposing a kind of police state that would rapidly detect any deviation from the Church-enforced norms.  Celibacy (including abstinence from masturbation) was imposed on anyone who was gay, single, or divorced (and remarriage after divorce was forbidden).  Sex was incredibly dangerous for any woman who couldn't safely give birth.

No one is suggesting a return to that Stasi-like social organization.  In fact, I wouldn't even suggest a particularly tight link between sex and companionship.  People should be free to have casual sex, just as people should be free to use iodine-free salt.  But if the question is whether social norms should be deployed at all to link sex with companionship, then I think the answer has to be yes.  Sex is simply too powerful a human urge for us to declare it to be immune from "taxes," so to speak.  It would be like refusing to tax income.  Or refusing to link salt with iodine consumption.

You might say that if people are left entirely free to choose their sexual activities, with no pressure one way or another, they will achieve whatever level of sex and companionship they like.  I'm skeptical.  There is no straightforward market for companionship, and a lot of people report loneliness and social isolation, an odd result if there is a well-functioning "market."  In any case, we don't accept the argument that a laissez-faire approach will lead to the "right" amount of iodine deficiency.  And it seems likely to me that we will achieve significantly higher levels of companionship if we allow it to piggy-back on sex than if we don't.

I don't really know what this implies, specifically, for social norms.  I am very skeptical, though, of arguments that society will get better and better as sexual norms fade away.  The old institutions of monogamy, pair-bonding, and family seem tremendously valuable, and I would rather purge them of their old bigotry than abandon them entirely.

Rambling About Cities and Transportation Costs

A few weeks ago I visited a client's offices, which are within walking distance of my own office.  However, I was running late, and I chose to take a taxi.  Big mistake!  It ended up taking me 40 minutes to go 1.25 miles, a distance I could easily have covered in 25 minutes walking.  (Walking is slow because of stoplights etc.  For this particular trip, there is no subway that could meaningfully reduce travel time relative to walking the whole way.)

This got me thinking.  Big, dense cities seem to have the following characteristic:  people are simultaneously slowed down and pushed closer together, with ambiguous effects on travel time.  This has interesting consequences for transportation in a city.

The biggest winner from the strange "physics" of city travel is grade-separated mass transit.  Subways are not that fast in absolute terms.  They also have the disadvantage that their travel route is inflexible—I have to walk about 10 minutes at each end of my commute.  But subways have the crucial advantage that they are about as fast during rush hour as they are during off-peak hours.  Cars are much faster during off-peak hours, and they can take you directly from point to point.  But these advantages are reduced or eliminated by (A) rush-hour traffic, and (B) reduced distances.  (So for instance, late at night I sometimes take a taxi home, spending about $25 but saving about 25 minutes in travel time.  When traffic is light, cars are incredibly fast relative to subways.)

The other big consequence of "city physics" is that land values are higher and more dependent on location.  Living a mile further from your job is not a big deal in a small city where it means perhaps an extra 5 minutes and 25 cents in gasoline per day.  But living a mile further from the subway station is a very big deal—that's maybe an extra 25-30 minutes of commuting per day, sometimes in very unpleasant conditions.  The effects are much larger for retail businesses—being a mile further from your customers would essentially destroy a lot of New York City businesses, but in small cities everyone drives anyway, and it makes only a small difference.  As a result, land values in small cities are "low amplitude."  Sure, some areas are going to be more expensive than others, but the differences will generally be muted.  In New York City it's not uncommon to see a very expensive neighborhood within half a mile of a slum.  (Though even slums are relatively expensive.)

And this, in turn, has consequences for inequality.  Below a certain level of income, small cities are terrible, because car travel is prohibitively expensive and very few jobs or stores are within walking distance.  This is one reason places like Ferguson, Missouri are hellholes for poor people.  But at a surprisingly low income, the situation reverses itself and small cities become much better for lower-middle-class people.  Once you can afford a car, basically, you are likely to be far better off in a small city.  If you can drive, then you can work anywhere in the city at relatively low cost.  Housing is cheap.  You can go to the park or the wilderness without paying insane amounts to live near them.  Retail goods and services are cheap, with a few exceptions.  (Nail salons are apparently quite cheap in New York relative to smaller cities, though this might not be for the best of reasons.  Also, while food is generally less expensive in small cities, certain kinds of ethnic food would be hard to find.)  And by the way, cars are not that expensive.  In New York City you pay about $1,400/year for a Metrocard.  A car probably costs more than $1,400/year in a small city, but not by a tremendous amount.  Certainly a couple that shares a car in a small city is not going to pay much more than they would pay for transportation in New York City.  And of course housing should more than make up for the difference.

Manufacturing jobs are also much more plentiful in small cities than in New York, because modern factories use a lot of space and can't profitably be located in areas where land is expensive.  Schools are a mixed bag.  Some schools in New York City are excellent, but overall the public schools are either horribly expensive (via the cost of living in a good school district) or mediocre at best, and the private schools are also very expensive.  That said, if you have high-school aged kids who are extremely good at taking tests, New York City's magnet schools are probably better and cheaper than almost any other option.

So what are big cities good for?  Basically, they are good for very poor people, very rich people, and gay people.  Very poor people, because cities do a lot of redistribution and don't require a car to get around.  Very rich people, because cities support high-paying jobs and abundant opportunities for consumption and socializing.  (And so poor people, again, because the presence of all those rich people creates a lot of low-skill jobs as servants etc.)  Gay people, because big cities are tolerant and contain enough other gay people to offer a lot of potential matches.  (As the country becomes more tolerant, medium-sized cities will become more and more competitive, and I expect big cities' allure for gays to decline.)

But here's the thing.  The pattern of development that is appropriate for a big city is very different from the pattern of development that is appropriate for a small- or medium-sized city.  Qualitatively different.  This is a huge problem, because (A) before cities become big, they generally go through stages during which they are small- or medium-sized, and (B) it is tremendously expensive to retrofit a city with the infrastructure that a big city requires.  This is not just a matter of building subways, though that is important.  It involves lot size, house size, building height, parking lots, parks, the size and variety of retail stores, etc.  Some of those things are relatively easy to fix, but some are prohibitively expensive.  One that I didn't mention, but that is prohibitive by itself, is street layout—cities somewhat counter-intuitively need to devote more space to streets, and need the streets to be laid out in a tight, interlocking grid.  But re-routing streets doesn't just cost a lot in construction terms, it requires re-allocating land ownership (the new streets have to go through what is currently private property, and lots will be bisected or worse by the new streets).

My view is that the government should consciously set out to develop a few more big cities along the lines of New York and Chicago (and it should probably spend money making both of those cities, especially Chicago, more urban).  This could be done in a few ways, all of them expensive and risky.  The government could simply build subways in the middle of nowhere (this has the advantage of being quite cheap), zone for density, and then subsidize the rapid development of a new city.  Alternatively, the government could select a few medium-sized cities, rezone large swathes for density, and then spend a bunch of money adding subways and other big-city infrastructure.

I somewhat prefer the former option because starting from scratch allows a tremendous amount of flexibility, and the politics seem much less complicated.  (Just dealing with the suburbs of an existing medium-sized city would be very taxing.)  But if we are going to enjoy the benefits of urbanism at a reasonable cost, we need more than our handful of legacy urban centers, and we can't rely on natural growth to deliver.  At best we can hope for the gentrification of a few old, somewhat-dense cities (like Philadelphia and Baltimore), all of which are in the eastern part of the country and none of which is truly equipped to be a New York-style urban center.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Whatever You Do, Please Don't Hurt Charlie Hebdo's Feelings

It's almost impossible to overstate how surreal this is:
But let's try to see how we've come to this very strange moment.  Recall that the case against Charlie Hebdo is that the magazine published material highly likely to make Muslims feel oppressed, humiliated, and unwelcome in their own country.  Maybe the magazine went out of its way to make Muslims feel this way, maybe it simply acted with extreme disregard for their feelings.

The most coherent defense of Charlie Hebdo—there are many, many incoherent defenses, as I have learned from Caleb Crain's retweets—is that the magazine was an equal-opportunity offender, that it was by and large taking on powerful people and institutions, and that when it occasionally commented on Muslims it did so with the same irreverence and disregard for personal feelings that it applied to all of its targets.  People should toughen up, a free society demands thick skins.

Now Dominique Sopo's point is that people who have criticized Charlie Hebdo should be ashamed of themselves, because when you express a negative view of someone, you do deep and terrible harm—you kill him a second time.  To criticize a publication is to go beyond the pale.  There are feelings at stake here!  Maybe you have a legal right to say something bad about Charlie Hebdo, but you have no moral right to do so.

This seems to me to be a highly bizarre thing to say at a gala honoring Charlie Hebdo.  It is in fact the most explicit criticism of Charlie Hebdo's values that I have seen anyone make.  I wonder if the crowd booed him off the stage.

Self-Driving Data

You may have seen a feature on the New York Times website, part of its "Upshot" section.  Based on recent research, the feature allows you to select a county and then see the effect of that county on the children who grow up there.  My own county, Kings County in New York, is apparently fairly bad for poor children and fairly good for rich children.  (This isn't universally true, as you might expect.  There are counties that are far better for poor children than for rich children.  A good example is Montgomery County, Maryland, which is part of the D.C. metro area.)

But you've got to be very careful when you are dealing with "data-driven" analysis.  And in this case, the data are highly misleading.  The key is something that was divulged in an accompanying article, which assesses why the data seem to indicate that Manhattan is a bad place to grow up at all income levels (but especially for affluent children):

A third factor is marriage, which clearly plays a role in the Manhattan effect. Children who grow up there are less likely to marry, at least by age 30 and probably over all, than similar children elsewhere. About one-third of the income penalty stems from the fact that Manhattan children are more likely to be living without another adult in their late 20s, and of course a second adult often bring a second income. (Our analysis measures household income.)

Aha!  The study looks at household income, and so the timing of marriage affects the conclusion.  Imagine two counties.  In one, children grow up to have average per capita income of $25,000.  In the other, they grow up to have average per capita income of $45,000.  But in the first county, virtually all children are married by the age of 25.  In the second county, virtually no one marries by the age of 25.  The first county, the one in which children end up with vastly lower per capita income, will appear to bestow somewhat better economic outcomes on children who grow up there (at least, by age 25).  They will have household income of ~$50,000, whereas in the other county the comparable number will be ~$45,000.

This may go a long way to explaining something odd about the data:  some of the best counties seem to be extremely rural.  There is a big swath of blue (which is the "good" color) through the plains states, out in counties with miniscule populations.  But the big cities out there—Omaha, Minneapolis, and so forth—are not particularly "good."  There's something about being extremely rural that seems to help.  And the answer may very well be that people get married much younger in those rural counties.

And this is one of the things that gets me about the fetishization of "data-driven" approaches to public policy.  How many people who play around with that map will fail to understand that the results are being driven to a significant degree by marriage rates?  And how many of them will reach false conclusions about the world based on that ignorance?  And (here is the crucial part) how many of them will congratulate themselves for being conversant with the data, for basing their views on "scientific evidence"?  Put something in the right format, and publish it on a reputable website, and just about everyone will believe it.  And not just believe it—attribute a high degree of confidence to it, because quantitative approaches are good and qualitative approaches are bad!  It's frustrating and obnoxious beyond measure.