James C. Banks

Expected Facts and Strange Conclusions

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I don’t want to wag my finger and call fowl too much, because I don’t think that David Brooks is serious about this, but this passage is still an interesting case study since I can imagine others drawing the same conclusion in perfect seriousness:

“What do you do after your party wins an election? In a forthcoming study for the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Patrick Markey and Charlotte Markey compared Internet searches in red and blue states after the 2006 and 2010 elections. They found that the number of searchers for pornography was much higher right after the 2010 election (a big G.O.P. year) than after 2006 (a big Democratic year). Conversely, people in blue states searched for porn at much higher rates after 2006 than after 2010. One explanation is this: After winning a vicarious status competition, people (predominantly men, I guess) tend to seek out pornography.”

This sounds a bit like a post hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because people hit pornography right after their party’s victory doesn’t mean that the victory is the reason they visited a pornography site.

It seems more likely to me that the correlation between victory and pornography-viewing stems from the contrasting contexts of people who win versus people who lose: Victorious voters—and, importantly, voters who expect to be victorious—are more likely to go to the internet to scrutinize election results; they are also more likely to stay on the internet for more than five minutes and wait for further results and news stories and, therefore, pursue recreation in between. When they get politicked out—well, they’re already at the computer, so why not?

I am not a connoisseur of pornography (you’ll have to trust me) and have not had this experience, but the motivation behind the facts is far from clear. It might have been more telling if someone had looked into whether or not pornographic video rentals went up in blue states the day after the 1992 election or vice versa after the 1994 election. But, as it is, the facts don’t lead to a foregone conclusion that elections compel people to seek out pornography; it is as likely that elections just bring people together in a large, electronic forum where pornography can easily be found.

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