Sunday, November 21, 2010

Making Stuff Up

I know that Robert and everyone else is going to take a hammer to this one, but it's really annoying when people like Megan McArdle just make things up or toss out random numbers to make her feelings on a subject seem right. Here's the immediate culprit that made me want to post.
San Francisco-LA, the route my fellow journalist wanted to travel, isn't even on this map; the Bay Area MSA only has about 4 million people in it. By contrast, the smallest city on the Chinese map has a population over 5 million, and that's considerably understated, because I used just the population of the city, not the outlying areas that might conceivably drive in to use the HSR.
I know that blogs are blogs, but where is the sourcing for the numbers? If I use numbers I'm always trying to cite them. Why is she using MSA of San Francisco and Oakland instead of the Bay Area CSA? The Bay Area CSA is actually 7.4 million, not 4 million. That's a HUGE difference. Not to mention that she's talking about SF to LA, wherein LA's CSA is 17.8 million people! And then where's the link to Chinese cities? A simple wikipedia search would help even a little.

Finally, there are other high speed rail lines that were built WITH regard to environmental issues and have greater similarities to the possible US system. I think a comparison to France, Spain, or Netherlands/Germany would have been more apt in this circumstance.

Anyway, posts like this are why I get annoyed at general commentators taking stabs into my area of specialty. I've also mentioned before that if they are this bad at my subject, how are they in other people's areas? The focus of blogs like Human Transit, the Urbanophile, or the Transport Politic are always going to be much more informative than most of Megan's posts. But we push back on her because more people read her blog.


Stephen Smith said...

In general I think you're right, although I've seen Matt Yglesias and Tyler Cowen make very reasonable arguments about urbanism. Matt's are a bit simplistic and mostly rehash Shoup's arguments, but I remember Tyler Cowen once posted a link to a very interesting paper on minimum parking requirements that was the most compelling proof I've ever seen that they do matter and they do alter the urban form. (A lot of so-called libertarians brush away parking minimums, claiming that developers would build the parking anyway.)

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I agree. I like to see Matt argue for the cause on my side but sometimes I have to hold back my enthusiasm. I like when they're linking to papers and interpreting them, at least then we can read the papers and get our own opinion as well. But Megan's post is completely bereft of links or backing information.

BTW, thanks for your blog Stephen. I've been reading it for a while and like to see that side of the discussion.

neroden@gmail said...

"McMegan" is considered an idiot by all the reputable economists. Brad DeLong has laid down some really impressive smackdowns.

So yeah, if she screws up your area of expertise.... she is probably screwing up everyone else's areas, too.

Anonymous said...

If we're talking population and potential ridership, there's about 3-4 million folks living in the San Joaquin Valley who would use HSR.

Alon Levy said...

It would take McArdle about 1 minute of Wikipedia search to see that Chinese city limits are drawn extremely loosely, and include all suburbs as well as extensive rural territory. For example, the article on Wuhan states the municipal population as 9.7 million, and the urban population as 6.7.

It would take McArdle seconds to realize that the domestic TGV doesn't even connect very large metro areas, other than Paris. If she tried to repeat her top-ten-cities argument for Europe, she'd find that the top three cities are Moscow, London, and Istanbul, and conclude Europe could never have as much HSR as China.

So I concur with Neroden: she's an uninformed hack.

Zafran ali said...

If we're talking population and potential ridership, there's about 3-4 million folks living in the San Joaquin Valley who would use HSR.You have done nice job.thank,s for so nice sharing.I really impress.
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