Man Up, Antiplanner! - 1
Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
A recent bit of sleight-of-hand by the (self-styled) Antiplanner, a.k.a. our loyal “frenemy” Randal O’Toole, suggests the above variation on a catch phrase from a recent U.S. political campaign.
Whether advertently or not, O’Toole presented a statistic that was more than ten times greater than the value stated by an authoritative source.
As a “numbers geek,” I’d describe O’Toole’s figure as incorrect- by more than one order of magnitude. In effect, O’Toole shifted the decimal point one place to the right - and then some.
This is more than a mere rhetorical point - or grist for one of those cheap shots that I like to make on occasion (e.g. “Anti-math from an anti-planner ... no surprises here”).
First, there is nothing ambiguous about the error in question. It’s one that O’Toole would be required - or compelled - to correct in various “real-world” situations (e.g. peer-reviewed publication, court testimony). In other words, it’s a Rikki (see Critiquing the Tunes of the Anti-Transit Troubadours: A Six-Part Rubric).
If Randal O’Toole wishes to be taken seriously, rather than written off as a mere cog in the “libertarian noise machine against public transportation,” he will need to correct the error in question - among others. However, O’Toole almost never bothers to correct mistakes - no matter how flagrant. One’s refusal to correct a “Rikki” tends to suggest one’s total inability to distinguish between fact and fantasy. By contrast, we denizens of Publictransit.us strive for accuracy and take pride in correcting errors - whether found by opponents (loyal or disloyal), “neutral correspondents,” supporters or by us.
Second, consider one of O’Toole’s latest screeds - excuse me, paper, Fixing Transit: The Case for Privatization (Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 670). This he presented a several weeks ago at the Cato Institute (Washington, DC). Among other things, O’Toole claims that privatization of public transit would “save taxpayers more than $40 billion per year” in federal, state and local subsidies.
(The Cato Institute is a libertarian-oriented “crib club” - excuse me, “think tank” - headquartered in Washington, DC. A detailed refutation of O’Toole’s paper, Contrasting Visions of Urban Transport  Critique of “Fixing Transit: The Case For Privatization, is available online in pdf format.)
The overriding issue associated with O’Toole’s latest “proposal” is that it is utterly absurd on its face. O’Toole has consistently - better to say “stubbornly” - refused to acknowledge the benefits of public transit to consumers and non-consumers alike. He has done so in a manner that reflects blinkered ideology rather than anything resembling systematic, empirical research. His latest work reinforces our impression that certain loyal and disloyal opponents inhabit a strange alternative universe (e.g. The Antiplanner’s Anti-Reality: A Look Back).
However, this post is not about O’Toole’s latest paper. It’s about an error that O’Toole made previously - and the (strong) likelihood that he will not address it. As described above, O’Toole presented an inflated statistic - flagrantly, obviously and stupidly inflated. He did so in a manner that suggests one or more of: purposeful deception, utter carelessness or “bad weed.” As a “numbers geek,” I find that the implications of this particular error are highly entertaining.
Think for a moment about the alleged “savings” to taxpayers “estimated” by O’Toole - all of $40,000,000.00. Now consider that wandering decimal point. Just how far to the right did it, um, “shift” - this time?
In other words: by how many orders of magnitude did O’Toole inflate this particular figure?
One?
Two?
Who knows?
O’Toole’s purported “savings” can suddenly look underwhelming. It’s true that 40 billion, divided by the current U.S. population, works out to about $130 per capita. However, one should probably correct for “rightward creep of decimal points” in numbers presented by O’Toole. If one moves the decimal point one place to the left, then the per-capita “savings” becomes all of thirteen bucks. Sounds like “chicken feed,” as the Antiplanner put it - or “chump change,” as we might have said about the (inflation-adjusted) amount at my high school.
O’Toole’s error, together with his customary failure to address same, calls the accuracy and validity of his latest work into question - together with just about everything else he writes.
Now: will he fix it?
I do not seriously expect that Randal O’Toole will respond to this post. However, I shall extend to him the opportunity for correction; I’ve saved additional comment about the error in question for a subsequent post. But I shall reiterate:
Man Up, Antiplanner!
Earlier in 2010, O’Toole began a commentary about the peer-review process for scientific papers as follows:
“If you’re so smart,” people sometimes ask the Antiplanner, “why haven’t you published any articles in peer-reviewed journals?” Part of my answer is that I’ve seen so many peer-reviewed articles that are simply junk science that I don’t have much respect for the process. (The other part of my answer is that I am not seeking academic tenure, which used to be the major reason for writing peer-reviewed articles.) (Peer Review? So What?, The Antiplanner, 18th March 2010)
Try not to laugh too loud, dear reader. O’Toole certainly knows well that he probably would not get away with presenting statistics more than ten times greater than the actual value, stated by an authoritative source.
Randal O’Toole might attempt to feign ignorance - or failure to fact-check. However, as outlined above, I anticipate that he will simply not bother to respond. Nonetheless:
Man Up, Antiplanner!
Because, to paraphrase the great actor James Earl Jones, in voiceover character: “I have him now!”
(More in a subsequent post.)