May 20, 2005
Six degrees of pork
We now have mathematical proof that the House is disfunctional. Mason Porter and Peter Mucha of the Georgia Institute of Technology used network analysis—essentially a mathematical version of six degrees of Kevin Bacon—to analyze partisanship and the connections between House committees:
Among the study’s findings is that the membership of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, formed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is closely tied to the House Rules Committee, a powerful group involved in the regulation of all committees and House members. But, contrary to expectation, the Homeland Security committee does not have many members in common with the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The paper identifies the House Rules, Judiciary, and Homeland Security committees as being the most partisan while the Intelligence committee is one of the least partisan.
The analysis also identifies the House’s most partisan members. They include Republican representatives Tancredo, Shadegg, Ryun, and Schaffer, and Democrat representatives Schakowsky, McGovern, Solis, Pelosi, and Woolsey.
Well, no surprises there—although as New Scientist points out, the analysis contradicts the U.S. Code, which outlines U.S. laws and suggests a just system in which all legislation receives a fair hearing from politicians who put the country’s interests ahead of their political party’s. The words “non-partisan” and “unbiased” appear frequently in the code, but, as Porter observes, the reality is a little different:
“Our analysis strongly suggests that committee assignments are stacked, and that some of the most partisan committees share some unusually strong connections considering the differences in their jurisdictions.”
One of Porter’s and Mucha’s previous projects involved developing a computer program to simulate monkeys picking the best football teams. This might work well in the House.
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