Commonwealth Foundation Public Relations Director Buries His Head in the Sand

What’s the first thing a conservative think tank does when it has no response on the substance of an issue? Attack.

This past weekend, for example, the Commonwealth Foundation responded to a new Keystone Research Center report showing that states like Pennsylvania which tightly control alcohol distribution have fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths as a result. (Fifty-eight fewer in Pennsylvania is our estimate.)

A story in The York Daily Record had this response from a Commonwealth Foundation spokesman:

Jay Ostrich, director of public relations with the Commonwealth Foundation, said [the Keystone report] is "mental gymnastics." "What they did was actually manipulate variables until they got the results they want," Ostrich said. "It's a joke."

Well, actually, he's got it backwards. Our report nailed the Commonwealth Foundation for doing what Ostrich charged.

You see, the Commonwealth Foundation published a report claiming that states which control alcohol distribution have as many or more alcohol-related traffic fatalities as states with fewer or no controls. This claim defied common sense: why would less access to alcohol — fewer outlets, shorter hours — lead to more alcohol abuse and death on the roads? The Commonwealth Foundation claim also ran counter to the consensus of peer-reviewed academic research.

So we took a look at how the Commonwealth Foundation reached its surprising result.

We found that their researchers left out two key variables that other fatality researchers usually include: how far people drive and average income. People have more accidents if they drive farther. Also, people with higher-incomes buy newer cars with more safety features. When we replicated the Commonwealth Foundation model adding these two variables, we confirmed that states with tight controls of alcohol distribution have fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Did the Commonwealth Foundation researchers deliberately (and illegitimately) leave out these variables to get the result they wanted? We don’t know for sure. We do know that the rise of traffic fatalities with how far people drive is so widely accepted that the state data are actually reported as traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. To get fatalities unadjusted for distance traveled, the Commonwealth Foundation authors had to make a special data request to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration.

Now that you have the fuller picture, you can draw your own conclusions about who manipulated the evidence to arrive at preconceived conclusions and whose research is a joke. And whose resort to attack is the surest “tell” that on the evidence and the logic, they got nuthin’.

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