The Right Coast

June 16, 2005
62.7 percent of New York Times editorials are complete rubbish
By Tom Smith

Can you spot the glaring logical error in this op-ed piece in the ever lovable NY Times? Terrorism expert Peter Bergen did some surveys and discovered most of a group of well-known terrorists went to college, at least for a while. Therefore, we should stop criticizing madrassas for spewing out America-hating zealots who are tomorrow's terrorists. Where to begin with such dumbness? This is just like saying, "Some people claim toadstools are poison. I have surveyed 100 famous cases of death by poison and found that a mere 2 percent of them involved ingesting toadstools. The poisonousness of toadstools is greatly exaggerated. Indeed, it is THE TOADSTOOL MYTH!" Alas, this is extremely tupid, as my kids used to say. I don't know what this fallacy is called, but you cannot reason backwards in this way. What you want to do is look at a nice sample of madrassa graduates (and don't forget your kevlar!) and count how many of them are terrorists, disposed to commit terrorism, support terrorism against the US, whatever it is you want to measure. Then you can compare something sensible, such as, disposition to support terrorism before and after going to the madrassa, or correlation between having gone to a madrassa and probability that one has C4, nails and rat poison strapped to one's tummy. But showing that most famous terrorists had some college education tells one nothing about madrassas. There's also the bias in the sample problem. If you want to take this backwards approach, you should at least get terrorists from across the board, including those who blew off their feet trying to place the IED, not just the spectacular "successes."