Monday, February 23, 2009

Does the Oregonian Not Care about Facts?

I realize there is a lower standard for opinion pieces then for news stories, but I imagine (and would hope) that The Oregonian would refuse to publish an opinion piece that claimed, say, that immigrants spread disease and are predisposed to crime. This claim has no basis in fact and has no place in a newspaper (unless it is in an article that then rebuts be presenting the evidence).

So why are they publishing this opinion piece that makes outrageous claims that are factually incorrect? In it the authors states: "the quality of education being delivered to a majority of students is closer to remedial high school rather than college." [Emphasis mine] There is absolutely no basis in fact for this statement. He goes on to state that half of students in college should not be there.

But what really gets this economist is the absurd claim that there is no real value to a college education and the only reason businesses want college degrees is it makes it easier to 'winnow' applications. Where to start? It is remarkable that businesses would find more applications such a burden and would pay 75% more for a college graduate than for a high school grad just to escape having too many of them. This is clearly an absurd assertion. We live in a world of market determined wages and businesses are not going to pay more for workers that do not have a higher marginal product. The college wage premium is real, huge and increasing precisely because a college education is valuable and ever more so in an increasingly global economy. See the graphic to the right (courtesy of the NY Times) - this is an empirical fact that contradicts the entire premise of the opinion piece.

Higher productivity means growth, so the conclusion we immediately draw from graphs such as this is that we should try and get more kids in college, not fewer, if we are interested in the future health and prosperity of the state and the nation. More college educated kids means a more productive workforce and thus more surplus to devote to many of the private and social needs of the population.

But the real question is why The Oregonian would print such an opinion piece? They should not promote the spread of ignorance. They should instead strive to raise the public debate, not lower it. What's next, a piece on how the Holocaust never happened, or that left-handers are superior beings?

1 comment:

Jeff Alworth said...

I don't think the O fact-checks opinion pieces (and I know they don't fact-check letters to the editor). Having had a few published, I've never had to supply sources for factual claims, and none of the language of my pieces was ever changed. It seems like the editor makes a decision about the piece whole-cloth. If it passes an initial smell test by the editor, they go with it.

Interestingly, the standard for bloggers is higher: we have to supply links to our claims or suffer the indignity of having commenters call us to the carpet. You experienced this kind of accountability with the sales tax debate (not that all the charges against your sources were valid).