On the topic of school choice, Scott Alexander appears to have spotted an example of the way in which the mainstream media phrases research in such a way as to create a false, left-wing impression of the news. The relevant New York Times headline is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It,” but looking at the data, Alexander suggests:
A more accurate way to summarize this graph is “About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t.”
By leaving it at “only a third of economists support vouchers”, the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy. Heck, it more than implies it – its title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It”. But its own source suggests that, of economists who have an opinion, a large majority are pro-voucher.
In a separate post, Alexander elaborates on why he believes the Times report is skewed, but the most persuasive evidence can be found by going to the Times’s source and reading the comments of the surveyed economists. Here’s David Autor of MIT, who was marked down as “disagreeing” that school choice would produce “a higher quality [of] education” (rating his confidence at 6 of 10) (emphasis added):
Some students would benefit and the average effect might indeed be positive. But some students would surely be harmed.
By this standard, improvement only counts if universal; indeed, that appears to be the complaint of many “disagreers,” as well as some “uncertains.” Here’s Ray Fair of Yale, who is level-10 confident in his uncertainty:
I think the majority of public school students would be better off, but certainly not all.
Wondering how much of all expert opinion is really predicated on a priori conclusions, I can’t resist juxtaposing this with progressives’ approach to the minimum wage, regarding which they acknowledge some percentage of people will be worse off but assume the net effect will be positive.
Experts’ differing opinions are, of course, legitimate, but spinning them to create a false impression of consensus isn’t news; it’s propaganda.