Saturday, March 22, 2008

Grappling With the Right-Wing Attack Machine

Auburn University Professor James Gundlach is an old hand at fighting off the right-wing attack dogs. He's got the hate mail to prove it.

How did Gundlach draw the right wing's ire? He wrote an academic paper showing that the vote totals in Alabama's 2002 gubernatorial election almost certainly were electronically manipulated. That manipulation, of course, gave Republican Bob Riley a paper-thin, come-from-behind win over Democrat Don Siegelman.

We posted about Gundlach's paper here. Writing that post gave me a taste for the kind of venom the Auburn academic inspires from certain GOPers. As you can see, I had quite a back-and-forth with one commenter who raised numerous objections about Gundlach's work. When I pointed out that Gundlach's paper addressed each one of the reader's contentions, that didn't seem to compute. It finally became clear that this reader, and others, wanted to trash Gundlach, but they didn't actually want to read his paper, which is readily available on the Web.

The GOPers can get pretty creative when it comes to attacking Gundlach. The other day, a reader going by the name of "Plumb Bob" sent me a comment that did a pretty good job of making me think he really knew about computers and the issues raised in Gundlach's paper. The comment is the last one on the post at the link above, and here it is in its entirety:

I know this is way after the fact, but I don't need to read Prof. Gundlach's paper to know where he went wrong. It's this statement:

"Gundlach says computers can't have glitches without human intervention."

Gundlach is a complete idiot. I don't think I've ever heard anything sillier from a Professor.

The description of the creation of the summary sheet indicates a cartridge making some sort of electrical interface with some sort of readout equipment, probably an electronic interface with an LEDreadout. I can think of half a dozen places in a system like that that an error could occur, and I'm pretty sure we've all experienced them ourselves:

- There could be dirt in the contacts between the cartridge and reader, resulting in a false reading.

- There could be a fault in the LED, causing a false number or a scrambled number on the display.

- There could be bad lighting, with the result that the person reading the interface saw something wrong.

- There could be a dog-tired operator.

- There could be a weak electrical supply, resulting in a completely erroneous display.

That's just off the top of my head.

The just insanely silly statement, "computers can't have glitches without human intervention," is the dead giveaway that Prof. Gundlach engaged in a process that was going to find evidence of fraud whether it occurred or not. Such analyses should be avoided like the plague.

The anonymous commenters are correct: the reports from those who examined the actual process are more to be trusted than the statistical analysis of a clearly biased interpreter.

I asked Prof. Gundlach if he would like to respond to "Plumb Bob," and he said yes. Here is his reply:

The commenter is misquoting me. I said computers don't produce different results without human intervention. When you get the kind of glitch the poster is describing, the programs fail; (they do) not create new numbers. And, in the Baldwin County case, three different results were produced. . . . For what it is worth, (my study) has been gone over by a team of statisticians from MIT, and they thought it was the strongest evidence of an electronically stolen election they had seen.


jackson said...

I've taken on "plumb bob" a few times as "reality bite" on his blog. He's pretty far out there, believing that Marxist revisionism has been insidiously worked into our history books, that gays are doomed to a life of misery, that christianity is the only solution for a free society, that "islamo facists" are creating sharia law mini-caliphates all over Europe and we're next, and the best one: the Bush administration has been exceedingly moral and honest. Pretty crazy stuff.

But the dangerous thing about him is that he's very well trained in rhetorical debate, is very intelligent, and is well armed with a mountain of right wing talking points and and their associated "facts".

But sometimes his anger gets the better of him (outrage about the grossly unfair treatment and prosecution of Rush Limbaugh and Tom Delay, for example)and he comes across as a raving lunatic.

Anonymous said...

You might note that I am now retired. Also, the paper is included in the forthcoming book, LOSER TAKE ALL, edited by Mark Crispin Miller. The book should be in book stores by the middle of April.
jim gundlach

James Greek said...

I am on Gundlach's side. Because I am a fan of Siegelman and if I was 18 and if the voting age was lowered I would have voted for him. He did so much for our state and my hometown of Elba especially. BTW, I bet you Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who is an Auburn resident gave Gundlach grief before.