Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ben Shapiro on Trump and fewer insurance options

Last week PolitiFact issued a completely ridiculous "Mostly False" rating on President Trump's tweet claiming Obamacare had resulted in millions of Americans having fewer health insurance options.

Many, including Jeff and me, pointed out the absurdity on Twitter. But we did not get around to writing it up for the blog.

Ben Shapiro saves us the trouble by summarizing PolitiFact's failure neatly in a short YouTube video.

Enjoy.



Good work, Ben Shapiro.

We expected PolitiFact to walk this one back or at least try to answer the wave of criticism the ruling received. PolitiFact elected to do neither, apparently convinced that its airtight reasoning successfully weathered all the criticism it received.

In other words, industrial strength bubble.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The unquotable Judith Curry

Judith Curry's Twitter avatar.
A reader tipped us to the fact that climate research expert Judith Curry has posted interview questions she received from PolitiFact's John Kruzel, along with her responses to those questions.

Kruzel solicited Curry's views in the context of fact-checking a statement about carbon dioxide's role in climate change. Kruzel's fact check lists his email interview of Curry in its source list, but the fact check does not quote, paraphrase or summarize Curry's views.

In accordance with its Creative Commons licensing, we present Curry's account of her PolitiFact interview, following the format she used at the blog she hosts, Climate Etc. (we added a bracketed explanation of the IPCC acronym):
On June 20, John Kruzel, the author of the Politifact article, sent me an email:

We’re looking into Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s recent claim that the main cause of climate change is most likely “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.” We’ve asked the Department of Energy why Perry disagrees with the IPCC  [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] that human activity is the main cause of climate change; we’ve received no response so far.

I’d be grateful if you’d consider the following questions:


Questions from Politifact to JC, and JC’s responses:

Do you consider the IPCC the world’s leading authority on climate change and why?
The IPCC is driven by the interests of policy makers, and the IPCC’s conclusions represent a negotiated consensus.  I don’t regard the IPCC framework to be helpful for promoting free and open inquiry and debate about the science of climate change.
 .
Do you agree with the IPCC that effects of man-made greenhouse gas emissions “are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
It is possible that humans have been the dominant cause of the recent warming, but we don’t really know how to separate out human causes from natural variability.  The ‘extremely likely’ confidence level is wholly unjustified in my opinion.
 .
How solid is the science behind the conclusion that human activity is the main cause of climate change?
Not very solid, in my opinion.  Until we have a better understanding of long term oscillations in the ocean and indirect solar effects, we can’t draw definitive conclusions about the causes of recent warming.
 .
What is your response to Perry’s statement?
I don’t have a problem with Perry’s statement.  There is no reason for him to be set up as an arbiter of climate science.  He seems clearly committed to a clean environment and research to developing new energy technologies, which is  his job as Secretary of Energy.

JC question:  So what are we to conclude from PolitiFact’s failure to even mention or consider my responses, after explicitly asking for them?
We suggest it's safe to conclude Kruzel had his mind made up on this fact check before contacting his expert sources. Asking experts if they agree the IPCC is the leading authority on climate change qualifies as a classic leading question, and offers a strong indication that the IPCC's leading role in the story was central before Kruzel contacted Curry. The second question counts as another leading question, set up by the first leading question.

It looks like Kruzel was trying to lead the experts toward giving quotations to back what he had already decided to write.

Kruzel's third and fourth questions are fine. A serious fact check could have worked based on those questions alone, dropping the leading questions and Kruzel's/PolitiFact's confident proclamation regarding the IPCC (bold emphasis added):
The world’s leading authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has concluded that human activity is "extremely likely" to be the main driver of warming since the mid 20th century.

While it’s still possible to find dissenters, scientists around the globe generally agree with this conclusion.
Kruzel might have added: "We actually found one such dissenter without even really trying!"  But since PolitiFact does not publish its email interviews (unlike one transparent fact checker we know of), there's no telling whether PolitiFact found more than one such dissenter in its small pool of expert sources.

Seriously, what is the basis in fact for calling the IPCC "the world's leading authority on climate change"? Such designations stem from popular or expert opinions, don't they? Objective reporting makes such distinctions clear. What Kruzel did was not objective reporting.



Correction June 28, 2017: Belatedly added a hyperlink to the PolitiFact fact check that cites Curry without quoting Curry

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The collapse of PolitiFact's favorite claim to neutrality

"What's funny is sometimes I'll get an email that'll say 'You guys are so biased.'  But I won't know who we're supposed to be biased in favor of, because we get criticized a lot by both sides."
--Bill Adair, from a 2012 NPR interview

For years, PolitiFact creator Bill Adair has excused PolitiFact from charges of bias by saying it receives criticism from both sides.

The line received such customary use that it found its way into Lucas Graves' account of the rise of the fact-checking movement, "Deciding What's True: The Rise of Political Fact-Checking in American Journalism" (numbered citation omitted):
Fact-checkers anticipate political criticism and develop reflexes for trying to defuse it. "We're going to make the best calls we can, in a pretty gutsy form of journalism," Bill Adair told NPR. "And when we do, I think it's natural for people on one side or the other of this very partisan world we live in are going to be unhappy." One strategy is responding only minimally or in carefully chosen venues, and always asserting their balance, often by showing the criticism they receive from the other side of the spectrum. Fact-checkers make this point constantly.
The point of this strategy is obvious. The fact checkers imply that getting criticized from both sides indicates they are neutral--a form of the middle ground fallacy.

But this month Adair, now ensconced in academia at Duke University helping run the Duke Reporters Lab, published research suggesting that the criticism fact checkers receive comes predominantly from conservatives (reviewed here).

Color us shocked?

We find it disingenuous for Adair to use the "we get criticized from both sides" argument to emphasize PolitiFact's neutrality and then fail to question PolitiFact's neutrality after admitting the criticism from both sides is mostly from one side.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PolitiFact: Gays (and lesbians!) most frequent victims of hate crimes

Isn't it clear that PolitiFact's behavior is most likely the result of liberal bias?

PolitiFact Bias co-editor Jeff D. caught PolitiFact pimping a flubbed fact check on Twitter, attaching it to the anniversary of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.
The problem? It's not true.

As we pointed out when PolitiFact first ran its fact check, there's a big difference between claiming a group is the most frequent target of hate crimes and claiming a group is at the greatest risk (on a per-person basis) of hate crimes.

Blacks as a group experience the most targeted hate crimes (about 30 percent of the total), according to the imperfect FBI data. That makes blacks the most frequent targets of hate crimes, not gays and lesbians.




Perhaps LGBT as a group experience a greater individual risk of falling victim to a hate crime, but we do not trust the research on which PolitiFact based its ruling. We doubt the researchers properly considered the bias against various small groups, such as the Sikhs. Don't take our word for it. Use the hyperlinks.

There is reason to suspect the research was politicized. We recommend not drawing any conclusion until the question is adequately researched.

What would we do without fact checkers?


Clarification June 13, 2017: Added "(on a per person basis)" to accentuate the intended distinction. Also changed "greater risk" to "greater individual risk" for the same reason).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

PolitiFact New York: Facts be damned, what we think the Democrat was trying to say was true

Liberals like to consider the tendency of fact checkers to rate conservatives more harshly than liberals a fairly solid evidence that Republicans lie more. After all, as we are often reminded, "truth has a liberal bias." But the way fact checkers pick which stories to tell and what facts to check has a fundamental impact on how fact checkers rate claims by political party.

Take a June 9, 2017 fact check from PolitiFact New York, for example.

Image from PolitiFact.com

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) of New York proclaimed that the state of New York has achieved pay equity.

Hochul also proclaimed women are paid 90 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Hochul's first claim seems flatly false, if we count women getting paid $1 for every $1 earned by a man as "pay equity."

Her second claim, putting an accurate number on the raw gender wage gap, typically rates either "Half True" or "Mostly True" according to PolitiFact. PolitiFact tends to overlook the fact that the statistic is almost invariably used in the context of gender discrimination (see "Afters" section below).

In fact, the PolitiFact New York fact check focuses exclusively on the second claim of fact and takes a pass on evaluating the first claim of fact. PolitiFact New York justified its rating by saying Hochul's point was on target (bold emphasis added):
Hochul's numbers are slightly off. The data reveals a gender pay gap, but her point that New York state has a significantly smaller gap compared with the national average is correct. We rate her claim Mostly True.
At PolitiFact Bias, we class these cases under the tag "tweezers or tongs." PolitiFact might focus on one part of a claim, or focus on what it has interpreted as the point the politician was trying to make. Or, PolitiFact might look at multiple parts of a claim and produce a rating of the claim's truthiness "on balance."

PolitiFact in this case appears to use tweezers to remove "We have pay equity" from consideration. That saves the Democrat, Hochul, from an ugly blemish on her PolitiFact report card.

The fact checkers have at least one widely recognized bias: They tend to look for problematic statements. When a fact checker ignores a likely problem statement like "We have pay equity" in favor of something more mundane in the same immediate context, it suggests a different bias affected the decision.

The beneficiary of PolitiFact's adjusted focus once again: a Democrat.

When this happens over and over again, as it does, this by itself calls into question whether PolitiFact's candidate "report cards" or comparisons of "Truth-O-Meter" ratings by party carry any scientific validity at all.



Afters

Did Hochul make her gender wage gap claim in the context of gender pay discrimination?

Our best clue on that issue comes from Hochul's statement, just outside the context quoted by PolitiFact New York, that "Now, it's got to get to 100 [cents on the dollar]."
We draw from that part of her statement that Hochul was very probably pushing the typical Democratic talking point that the raw wage gap results from gender discrimination, which is false. Interpreting her otherwise makes it hard to see the importance of pay equity regardless of the jobs men and women do. We doubt the popularity of having gender pay equity regardless of the job performed, even in the state of New York.

The acid test:
Will women's groups react with horror if women achieve an advantage in terms of the raw wage gap? When men make only 83 cents on the dollar compared to women? Or will they assure us that the differences in pay are okay as it is the result of the job choices people make? We'll find out in time.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Incompetent PolitiFact engages in Facebook mission creep, false reporting

The liberal bloggers/mainstream fact checkers at PolitiFact are expanding their "fake news" police mission at Facebook. While they're at it, they're publishing misleading reports.

Facebook Mission Creep

Remember the pushback when Facebook announced that fact checkers would help it flag "fake news?" PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan made the rounds to offer reassurance:
[STELTER:]Angie, there has been a lot of blowback already to this Facebook experiment. Some on the right are very skeptical, even mocking this. Why is it a worthwhile idea? Why are you helping Facebook try to fact-check these fake stories?

HOLAN: Go to Facebook, and they are going about their day looking to connect with friends and family. And then they see these headlines that are super dramatic and they wonder if they're right or not. And when they're wrong, sometimes they are really wrong. They're entirely made up.

It is not trying to censor anything. It is just trying to flag these reports that are fabricated out of thin air.
Fact check journalists spent their energy insisting that "fake news" was just made-up "news" items produced purely to mislead people.

Welcome to PolitiFact's version of Facebook mission creep. Sarah Palin posted a meme criticizing the Paris climate accord. The meme showed a picture of Florida legislators celebrating, communicating the attitude of those who support the Paris climate agreement:


The meme does not try to capture the appearance of a regular news story. It is primarily offering commentary, not communicating the idea that Florida legislators supported the Paris climate agreement. As such, it simply does not fit the definition of "fake news" that PolitiFact has insisted would guide the policing effort on Facebook.

Yet PolitiFact posted this in its fact check of Palin:
PolitiFact fact-checked Palin’s photo as part of our effort to debunk fake news on Facebook.
Fail. It's as though PolitiFact expects meme-makers to subscribe to the same sets of principles for using images that bind professional journalists (oops):



Maybe PolitiFact should flag itself as "fake news"?


Communicating Fact Checks Using Half Truths

Over and over we point out that PolitiFact uses the same varieties of deception that politicians use to sway voters. This fact check of Palin gives us yet another outstanding example.  What did Palin do wrong, in PolitiFact's eyes?
Says an Internet meme shows people rejoicing over the Paris agreement
PolitiFact provided no good evidence Palin said any such thing. The truth is that Palin posted an Internet meme (we don't know who created it) that used an image that did not match the story.

PolitiFact has posted images that do not match its reporting. We provided an example above, from a PolitiFact video about President Clinton's role in signing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

If we reported "PolitiFact said George W. and Jeb Bush Negotiated NAFTA," we would be giving a misleading report at best. At worst we'd be flatly lying. We apply the same standard to PolitiFact that we would apply to ourselves.


Afters

We sent a message to the writer and editor at PolitiFact Florida responsible for this fact check. We sent it before starting on the text of our post, but we're not waiting for a response from PolitiFact because PolitiFact usually fails to respond to substantive criticism. If we receive any substantive reply from PolitiFact, we will append it to this message and amend the title of the post to reflect the presence of an update (no, we won't hold our breath).

Dear Amy Sherman, Katie Sanders,

Your fact check of Sarah Palin's Paris climate accord meme is disgraceful for two big reasons.

First, you describe the fact check as part of the Facebook effort to combat "fake news." After laboring to insist to everyone that "fake news" is an intentionally false news item intended to mislead people, it looks like you've moved toward Donald Trump's definition of "fake news." The use of a photograph that does not match the story is bad and unethical practice in professional journalism. But it's pretty common in the production of political memes. Do you really want to expand your definition of "fake news" like that, after trying to reassure people that the Facebook initiative was not about limiting political expression? Would you want your PolitiFact video identifying George W. Bush/Jeb Bush as George H. W. Bush classified as "fake news" based on your use of an unrelated photograph?

Second, your fact check flatly states that Palin identified the Florida lawmakers as celebrants of the Paris climate accord. But that obviously is not the case. The fact check notes, in fact, that the post does not identify the people in the photo. All the meme does is make it easy to jump to the conclusion that the people in the photo were celebrating the Paris agreement. As such, it's a loose implication. But your fact check states the misdirection is explicit:
Palin posted a viral image that purportedly shows a group of people clapping as a result of the Paris agreement, presumably about the billions they will earn.
Purported by whom? It's implied, not stated.

Do you seriously think the purpose of the post was to convey to the audience that Florida legislators were either responsible for the Paris agreement or celebrating it? That would truly be fake news as PolitiFact has tried to define it. But that's not what this meme does, is it?

You're telling the type of half-truth you claim to expose.

Stop it.





Edit 6/9/2017: Added link to CNN interview in second graph-Jeff 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

PolitiLies at PolitiFact Wisconsin II (Updated: PolitiFact amends)

In part one of "PolitiLies at PolitiFact Wisconsin," we shared our experience questioning PolitiFact's reporting from a fact check of U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.).

In part two, we will look at PolitiFact Wisconsin's response to having a clear error pointed out in one of its stories.

On May 11, 2017, PolitiFact Wisconsin published a "Pants on Fire" rating of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's claim that "Air Force pilots were going to museums to find spare parts over the last eight years."

PolitiFact issued the "Pants on Fire" ruling despite a Fox News report which featured an Air Force captain, identified by name, who said the Air Force had on seven occasions obtained parts for B-1 bombers from museums.

PolitiFact Wisconsin objected to the thin evidence, apparently including the failure of the report to identify any of the museums that allegedly served as parts repositories (bold emphasis added):
The only example Ryan’s office cited was a May 2016 Fox News article in which an Air Force captain said spare parts needed for a B-1 bomber at a base in South Dakota were taken from seven "museum aircraft" from around the country. The museums weren’t identified and no other details were provided.
Yet when we attempted to verify PolitiFact Wisconsin's reporting, we found the text version of the story said Capt. Travis Lytton (no other details were provided?) showed the Fox reporters a museum aircraft from which a part was stripped. Lytton also described the function of the part in the story (no other details were provided?).

The accompanying video showed a B-1 bomber situated next to the name of the museum: South Dakota Air and Space Museum.



If one of the seven museums was not the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, then the Fox News video was highly misleading. The viewer would conclude the South Dakota Air and Space Museum was one of the seven museums.

How did PolitiFact Wisconsin miss this information? And why, when Lytton was plainly identified in the Fox News report, did PolitiFact Wisconsin not try to contact Lytton to find out the names of the other museums?

"Readers who see an error should contact the writer or editor"


We like to contact the writer and the editor when we see an error.

In this case, we contacted writer Tom Kertscher and editor Greg Borowski (May 31, 2017):
Dear Tom Kertscher, Greg Borowski,
Your rating of Speaker Ryan's claim about the Air Force pulling parts from museum planes falsely claims that none of the seven museums were identified.

Yet the Fox News report said the Air Force officer showed reporters the museum plane from which a part was taken. And if you bothered to watch the video associated with the story, the name of the museum appears very plainly in front of the B-1 bomber the officer identified.

http://www.sdairandspacemuseum.com/

And if the names of the museums was a point worth mentioning, then why not contact the officer (identified by name in the Fox News report) and ask him? If he identified one of the museums, would he not identify the others?
After nearly a week, we have received no reply to our message and the PolitiFact Wisconsin fact check still features the same false information about the Fox News report.

Why?

Integrity?


Update June 10, 2017: On June 2017 we received a message from PolitiFact Wisconsin editor Greg Borowski. Borowski said he had not received our email message (we do not know if writer Tom Kertscher, to whom it was also sent, had the same experience). Borowski said after finding out about the criticism PolitiFact Wisconsin "added a note to the item."

PolitiFact Wisconsin removed two false statements from its fact check, one stating that the Fox News report identified none of the museums from which airplane parts were taken, and one stating that the report featured no other details beyond those mentioned in the fact check.

This editor's note was added at the end of the fact check:
Editor's note: This item was updated on June 9, 2017 to say that the Fox News report did identify one museum. That information does not change the rating.
As with the other correction we helped prompt this week, we are impressed by PolitiFact Wisconsin's ability to commit an error and then fix the error without admitting any mistake. The editor's note says the fact check was changed "to say the Fox News report did identify one museum." Why was that change made? The editor's note doesn't say. The truth is the change was made because PolitiFact Wisconsin made a mistake.

It's appropriate for journalists to admit to making mistakes when they make them.  We do not care for the spin we see in PolitiFact Wisconsin's update notices.

Are we being too tough on PolitiFact Wisconsin? We think noted journalist Craig Silverman would agree with us.
Rather than destroying trust, corrections are a powerful tool to reinforce how accountable and transparent we are.

“If you’re willing to admit you’re wrong, people will trust you more,” said Mathew Ingram of Gigaom. “If I said to someone ‘You know, I’m never wrong’ they would think I was a psychopath or a liar, so they would trust me less. That’s versus if I said ‘I screw up all the time.’ They trust you more because you’re more human.”

That’s the paradox of trust: admitting our mistakes and failings make us more deserving of trust.


Correction June 14, 2017: Commenter Vinni BoD noticed our update was dated Sept. 2017. The month was actually June, which was the correct month in two spots where we (inexplicably) had "Sept." instead.