There’s this strange sort of schoolyard bully pleasure in taunting Michael Fumento. I wonder, though, if we’re the bullies, or if he is. I sorta feel like the skinny guy, taking pleasure in the bully’s comeuppance. But I dunno. Maybe we’re being the bullies. Should I feel bad, picking on poor Michael?
The thing is, Fumento is, at times, a quite talented journalist. But then, over and over again, he shows himself to be a complete tool.
My first encounter with his work was a solid take-down in Reason of Gary Taubes’ New York Times Magazine piece on the wonders of the Atkins diet. I probably liked the piece because it fit my biases, but whatever. It was a solid piece of work.
I’d forgotten the byline, though, until last fall when Fumento published this at Tech Central Station on the study in Lancet about the deaths in Iraq:
Cluster sampling can be valid if it uses reliable data, rather than on inherently unreliable self-reporting. But it can also be easily skewed by picking out hotspots – like determining how much of a nation’s population wears dentures by surveying only nursing homes.
In fact, intentionally or otherwise, that’s pretty much what The Lancet did. Most of the clusters had no deaths whatsoever. But here’s the real bombshell: “Two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Falluja,” the journal reported. That’s it; game over; report worthless.
The problem, as a quick reading of the paper in Lancet showed (gory details here), the researchers threw out the Fallujah numbers as an outlier. Fumento was easily and demonstrably wrong, as he must have known if he had read the paper. When Tim Lambert and I pointed this out in various blogs, Fumento’s response was not to defend his argument, or to correct his mistake, but to mock the worthlessness of blogs.
I think it’s worth pointing out again because of the simple audacity of it. He said something that was false, easily demonstrated to be so, and his response was not to defend his argument, nor to correct his mistake, but to attack his critics, apparently confident that, in his words, Lambert and I were “fully contained in the blogosphere”. The falsehood remains on his own web site.
Well, now Fumento has a blog. Needless to say, it’s subject to the same sort of shortcomings he has suggested in others. But whatever, there it is, and today’s missive is an odd sort of defense after the whole sock puppet incident, wherein he argues that because I post things that agree with Lambert, I’m somehow a human socket puppet – whatever that is. As Lambert points out, the blog post has its share of falsehoods. Again. Including the assertion that Tim Lambert tells me what to write.
For the record, Tim Lambert has never told me what to write. In this case, I take my clues from Michael’s oddly self-destructive behavior when he tries to act in his own defense. Step on a rake? Thwack. I’ll write about it. It’s the schoolyard bully thing.
Are we piling on? It’s just that the guy makes it so easy.
The strange thing is, as I said above, Fumento seems to be capable of really good work. I happen to agree, for example, with the point he made in his Weekly Standard piece about the hyping of the bird flu. But, with little personal knowledge of the subject, I just have to wonder what sort of Lancet-style howlers might be in there that he’ll be unwilling to acknowledge and correct if he got them wrong.
That’s why it’s important for journalists to acknowledge and correct their mistakes. Their credibility is at stake.