[FoRK] Rules of thumb

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Mon Apr 6 16:27:50 PDT 2009

Thank you very much for taking the time to write this.  I cannot digest 
it right now, however I will and see what I can fine tune in my debate, 
research, and analysis skills.  Please keep the analysis method details 


Jeff Bone wrote:
> On Apr 6, 2009, at 5:11 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:
>> I analyzed what the administration was saying, compared it to what 
>> you were saying they were saying and/or pointing to what other people 
>> were saying they were saying and noting gaps.  I guess if that isn't 
>> analysis then... whatever.
> Let's be perfectly clear.  I was *restating* the figure the 
> administration offered on estimated spend, which you did not at the 
> time take issue with:  ~$65B / year.  So your previous objection is a 
> fabrication, we were NOT in fact ever disagreeing about what you most 
> recently claimed we were disagreeing about prior to this new, 
> qualitative, harder-to-falsify-by-design revision of history.
> Nor was your analysis an analysis of claims.  Your objections, the 
> better / more valid ones, were objections to the various quantities 
> put forth in my Fermi estimation.  I was not "pointing to what other 
> people were saying and noting gaps."  I was performing a de novo 
> estimation of the ranges of various parameters in the Fermi 
> estimation, and *then* supporting those ranges with reference to 
> various external sources.  I drew these from a variety of differing 
> sources, offered so that you could choose which end of the range to 
> believe or where in the middle to place your own estimate of each 
> discrete quantity;  and I was forthright about offering the caveats 
> attendant to each such choice.  At the end of the day, I offered a 
> range so large an asteroid could pass through it undisturbed:  $130B / 
> year on the low end (supported both by bottom-up estimation by parts 
> and top-down verification by external source estimates and application 
> of the aforementioned rule-of-thumb) to >$500B / year on the high 
> end.  That you chose to object to such a non-specific estimate, 
> without offering any concrete alternative estimation of your own, is 
> both humorous and slightly alarming.  Basically, what you were doing 
> was saying "no, despite lack of any detail in what the offered spend 
> number is actually going to be spent on, I support it as being 
> sufficient to accomplish "the" goals (whatever those might be) as 
> stated."  Not supported, not supportable, completely fictional, 
> blindly accepted.  Instead you "offered" an incoherent, fragmented, 
> and ungrounded critique of the various inputs (never intended to be 
> authoritative anyway) to the Fermi model, nit-picking it to death, 
> without offering any alternatives.
> I do note that you didn't offer any alternative model in toto, 
> therefore nothing you offered could be viewed as a reasonable substitute.
> I also stated that the *implied* goal of the administration, based on 
> their statements and general policy positioning of not just the Obama 
> campaign but the entire Democratic wonk establishment over 20+ years, 
> is "universal" health care.  I was further making the generous 
> assumption that by "universal" health care the intent was merely 
> coverage of those not (presently) covered by private insurance;  this 
> is a generous assumption because of course, in the limit, "universal" 
> health care *could* be interpreted to mean "coverage by the 
> government, from taxes, of all Americans' total health care."  I chose 
> the less controversial and more practical interpretation.  Yet you 
> still could have objected to the interpretation I offered, but did 
> not;  had you objected to this, it would have been easy to refute your 
> objection with direct reference, repeatedly, to the apparent source of 
> concern by the administration:  the number of uninsured Americans in 
> various demographic categories, offered repeatedly throughout the 
> campaign by Obama himself and others.
> Let's review:  you didn't adequately object to the most contentious, 
> qualitative part of the whole argument, the "goals."  You didn't 
> object to the initial stated spend number, since that would have been 
> ridiculous (it was sourced, objective, and assumed --- and quite 
> ridiculous for you to have stated this time around that this was your 
> objection at that time, really.)  You didn't actually effectively 
> criticize the Fermi model as a whole, though you seemed confused about 
> the transitions between Fermi model, supplying and validating its 
> parameters, and cross-check by top down analysis, by reference to 
> external sources, and by rule-of-thumb.  Much of your criticism was 
> apparently rooted in your inability or unwillingness to correctly 
> distinguish those particular modes of arguments in my overall 
> critique.  You took aim at the conclusions of the estimation, which 
> were really so non-specific as to be ludicrous to object to anyway;  
> you offered no viable alternative model and estimation of your own;  
> and instead basically, implicitly, argued that "whatever" the goals 
> might be, the stated spend number was either implicitly sufficient, or 
> "a reasonable down payment" (whatever that might mean.)
> My point then, and now, remains this:  the only things that we *knew* 
> from the Obama campaign were that (a) they intended to spend at least 
> $65B (more) per year on health care, whatever that might mean, and (b) 
> they were desirous of covering most or all of the presently uninsured 
> part of the population.  Thus the point of the argument was to 
> demonstrate that whatever your assumptions might be,  (a) is laughably 
> insufficient to accomplish (b) --- as we now know by the spend that's 
> already been done in SCHIP etc., the new spend that's intended / 
> already budgeted, the greater clarification on where that spend is 
> going to go, and the clear recent *acknowledgment* by all involved at 
> the top policy-making level that this all is insufficient to 
> accomplish the broader goal of insuring 100% of America.  QED.
> I keep harping on this because this exchange, with you, was the 
> singular most significant reason that I chose to stop engaging via 
> FoRK in n-way conversation about any of these things, as it became 
> clear that your snow-job approach to trying to defuse my (hopefully 
> healthy, certainly well-intended) skepticism and critique was making 
> any rational discourse impossible.  Yet I know that you are both 
> capable of understanding the argument I was making *and* understanding 
> how your response was not a productive engagement in such a 
> conversation;  and I remain hopeful that you can and will, eventually, 
> make whatever corrections are necessary to return the conversation to 
> a productive, rational basis.  I have and will again, if it you make 
> it possible, value your critical insights;  but first you have to stop 
> offering extremely fragmented, reactionary, and irrelevant responses 
> to what you incorrectly, apparently, perceive as ideological 
> demagoguery on my part.
> Put more simply, please understand three things:  first, the snow-job 
> isn't convincing to anyone, and you're better than that.  Second, that 
> while both of us may share a desire for "progress" (and some, perhaps 
> large, agreement on what that means) that doesn't make anything that 
> smacks of "progressivism" immune from skepticism or criticism nor does 
> such criticism necessitate a reactionary retort, i.e. think about the 
> criticism *as such* before you counter.  Finally, that criticizing the 
> (unhelpfully characterized) "left" does not automatically make me part 
> of some "right" (much less an apologist for such odious characters as 
> Limbaugh or Hannity); just as my frequent criticism of the "right" 
> over the years automatically does not make it mandatory for me or 
> anyone to blindly support the agenda of Obama and friends in part or 
> in whole.
> Best,
> jb

More information about the FoRK mailing list