Turkewitz: What to Make of “Unearthed” EU Piracy Study

Everybody loves a scandal, even though sometimes where there’s smoke there’s just more smoke.  German politician Julia Reda (MEP), the sole member of the Pirate Party at the European Parliament was joined by TechDirt and some mainstream news sources in making  a fair bit of noise last week, declaring that the EU Commission buried a study, which concluded that “piracy has no effect on sales.”  But according to Neil Turkewitz, the study itself concludes no such thing.  This is one time when I’m not going to read the entire 300-page study, but it’s true that even it’s Executive Summary states, “In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements. That does not necessarily mean that piracy has no effect but only that the statistical analysis does not prove with sufficient reliability that there is an effect.”

That sounds more like an indictment against an attempt to statistically analyze a complex system than anything quite dramatic enough to justify hoisting the flag of conspiracy. But everybody loves a scandal. As Turkewitz points out in his article for Hypebot, we know a lot of things without statistics, including the fact that media sales just happened to drop concurrent with the growth of piracy.  In this regard, Turkewitz writes …

“… they could not disprove the null hypothesis. You know, just like scientists couldn’t disprove the null hypothesis about the effect of smoking on health for decades, or present efforts to disprove the null hypothesis on the effect of human activity on the climate. There are about a million reasons for failure to disprove the null hypothesis, but mostly they come down to one thing–understanding causality in complex relationships in which it is nearly impossible to establish control groups is incredibly complex. Essentially economists are looking for a straight line in a ball of thread.”

See full article at Hypebot here.

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