Partisan is as partisan does – reflections on writing a book

by cactus

The other day I had a post about a book I’m co-authoring; the book is slated to come out in the spring. As I noted then, the book looks at

at how a large number of variables – everything from abortion rates to economic growth, evolved over the length of each presidential administration beginning with Ike and running through GW.

We do that by looking at how each of these issues – say, real GDP per capita as an example – changed over the length of each administration, from right before an administration took office to right before it left office. We note the results graphically, and then try to understand why we saw the results we did. Many of the chapters parallel posts that were written for Angry Bear; the posts in Angry Bear were, in fact, a dry run for some of the later versions of many chapters. Kind of like making notes for a speech, then giving that speech a few times at Toastmasters, learning what works and doesn’t, and then rewriting the speech before standing up in front of a larger, potentially less forgiving crowd. The Ex-GF is a member of Toastmasters, and I’ve seen her do just that.

In comments a few people indicated the book is going to be biased. These are mostly long-time readers who’ve seen the posts I wrote on the results on economic growth… and don’t like them. I put up a response in comments, but I’d like to expand on that response a bit below. So here goes…

Say I told you I was co-authoring a book about Switzerland, in particular how Swiss Chancellors had performed on a wide range of issues from abortions to crime to the economy. The goal would be not just to see how these chancellors did on each of those issues, but to see if there were lessons that could be learned. Now, say, further, that:

1. the book would look at how each issue evolved over the length of each chancellor’s stay in power
2. the book would treat the growth rate of each issue the same – namely from right before each chancellor took office to right before he left office
3. the book would present all the results graphically and try to explain any patterns that arose
4. the data used would come from an unimpeachable source – official Swiss government statistics

A book that did that would be lauded as attempting to be unbiased by most people who came across it. And if it turned out that chancellors from one party or another tended to do worse than chancellors from other parties on, say, economic issues, you might conclude that perhaps something was wrong with the policies they pursued. Now say the book then considered the objections that thoughtful people might bring up (e.g., noting how results change or don’t leaving out the first year of each chancellor’s term, considering the effect of the Swiss central bank’s actions or the make-up of the various Houses of the Legislature, etc.), and found that a) the difference between the parties remained and b) there was a specific set of policies that was followed by chancellors from the party that underperformed, and the other parties always followed the opposite set of policies. Most Americans who read such a book would conclude that

a. the authors had specifically sought out the approach to writing the book that was least likely to impose their biases on the outcomes
b. the policies followed by the economic underperformers should, at a minimum, be handled with care, if not avoided altogether in Switzerland

The only Americans who would conclude that the book was not written in a way as to be unpartisan as possible would be folks who either had some prior biases about Switzerland and its politics, or found some sort of analogy between the not-very-successful policies in Switzerland and policies they happen to like here in the US.

Furthermore, they would have to be the sort of people who would not abandon their prior beliefs just because it was contradicted by data. Put another way – there is no way to satisfy those who are truly partisan except by also being partisan.
by cactus