Shirin Ali wins a “Lazy” for her sad article on Nicki Haley and Mandatory Competency Testing

What earns you a Lazy? Mindless takes. Failure to make an actual argument. A refusal to deal with obvious potential objections. Reliance on cherry-picked “expert” opinion with little or no relevance to the topic at hand. An ideological axe to grind without a corresponding commitment to either truth or rigor.

Congratulations to Shirin Ali for taking home a well-earned lazy for an article on Nikki Haley and mandatory competence testing. Yes, it’s easy to hand out “Lazys” when you disagree with someone, but it’s painful when you mostly agree. Mandatory competency testing based on age is a pretty lame idea and an obvious political stunt. But if you’re going to take it down, at least do the work to make a credible argument.

Ali’s article starts with a question that is about as rhetorical as questions get.

“As Nikki Haley kicked off her presidential campaign this week, stressing the need for “generational change” in politics, she said she would make sure lawmakers over 75 years old would be subject to “mental competency tests.

But are these kinds of screenings actually a good idea?”

Gee, I wonder what Shirin will think…

Well, at least she doesn’t keep you wondering. Because the next sentence gives us the classic “expert” trope of the seriously lazy essayist.

“I spoke to three experts in geriatric medicine who didn’t think so. Not only were Haley’s comments ageist, they said, but mental competency tests are not necessarily a useful tool to assess a person’s leadership ability.”

Let’s parse how stupid the premise of this is. First, notice how it replaces the idea of mental competence with leadership. I’m assuming that Nikki Haley isn’t saying that the problem with an 85 year old President isn’t an ability to lead but an inability to think effectively or put forth the necessary energy and hours to do a job that her former colleague at Slate described as “The Hardest Job in the World.”

Second, it presumes that geriatric experts will have something to say about what is clearly a public policy problem in which their expertise cannot really have much to say.

Since pretty much everyone over the age of two has had experience of age related competency decline, it’s hard to imagine that an expert will tell us much about that part of the issue. We know some people aren’t competent to be President. What we really should be thinking about is whether we want to create competency barriers to office and if we trust people to administer and interpret them correctly. It’s not clear why geriatric experts will help with either of these issues and they certainly don’t disappoint.

“The tests can measure memory, personality, the ability to manipulate information, speech, visual spatial skills and more—but it can’t measure leadership skills or abilities. Nace explained to me that there isn’t a single person or validated tool that could measure an intangible quality like leadership.”

Way to setup a straw-man and knock it out of the park! I imagine that Nikki might be okay with a test that weeds out people who are no longer able to speak or manipulate information even if, by gosh, they can still lead. Or are we supposed to imagine that the President’s job is a mono-functional role which somehow embodies leadership? Nor is it quite clear to me how it’s possible to be a leader when mentally incompetent.

Ahh, but Ali’s silliness doesn’t stop there. What would a “Lazy” be without a warning against generalizations. We’ll generalize here and say that every article worthy of a Lazy will caution at least once against generalizing.

“The experts I spoke to also said that designating 75 as the age when tests become mandatory was arbitrary and not rooted in science. “Maybe she should talk to my patient who’s 95 years old and published a book a year and a half ago,” said David Reuben, division chief of geriatric medicine at University of California, Los Angeles Center of Health Sciences.”

This “expert” seems to think Haley is suggesting mandatory retirement instead of competency testing. Or perhaps, having read his 95 year-old’s book, Mr. Reuben thinks it’s the same thing.

One might be tempted to ask what these experts think about mandatory driver tests after certain ages, minimum ages for entering the military or doing full-time labor, and arbitrary age limits around voting. Are they arbitrary and non-science based (of course they are)? Are they an impossible slippery slope? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

But, alas, Shirin doesn’t ask her experts about any of those things. Because asking your experts an obvious question wouldn’t be LAZY.

That’s pretty much the whole shebang. A few shots at Haley and several terrible quotes from clueless experts talking about the wrong thing. I know I came away convinced.

The only thing good about Ali’s article is that it’s short, so it doesn’t waste much of the reader’s time. Which proves that, when it comes to Lazy, consistency can be a good thing.

Let’s hope she didn’t waste much of Slate’s money writing this “essay”. It feels like the kind of piece written between the soup and the sandwich over lunch. On the other hand, where were Slate’s editors when it came to putting this piece online? Slate is too good a site to be pushing content this lazy on its readers. After all, isn’t that what we have Huffington Post for?