Tuesday, August 23, 2011

PolitiFact's Bill Adair skirts the issue of selection bias on C-SPAN

For a second there I thought PolitiFact editor Bill Adair was going to do it.  He was going to admit that PolitiFact "report cards" are pretty much worthless because of selection bias.

Not quite.  He dropped a few hints but avoided the confession.  Check it out:



The almost-confession is drowned out by Adair's language hinting that the main problem with the individual truth ratings comes from small sample size.

Good grief.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, PolitiFact!

Blogger Jeff Dyberg of the PFB team wishes PolitiFact a happy birthday as only he can, sending a birthday message akin to one of those television episodes made up of memorable clips from past episodes.

Give it a read.

It'll make you laugh.  It'll remind you of PolitiFact's ideological bias.  And the latter might make you cry even if the former doesn't.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Weekly Standard: "PolitiFact’s Problem with Long Division"

Jeffrey H. Anderson may have a Ph.D., but it's not in mathematics. So when he's faced with the daunting task of taking one number and dividing by another number, he should just leave it to the rocket surgeons over at PolitiFact. This is especially important if old math doesn't produce PolitiFact's desired result.

Anderson sums up the numerical details while answering a PolitiFact analysis:
Last month, I wrote that President Obama’s own handpicked Council of Economic Advisors had released an estimate that the president’s economic “stimulus” had added or saved just one job for every $278,000 of taxpayer money spent. Obama’s economists said the “stimulus” had cost $666 billion to date and had added or saved 2.4 million jobs. $666 billion divided by 2.4 million is $278,000. Yet when Speaker John Boehner tweeted, “POTUS’ economists: ‘Stimulus’ Has Cost $278,000 per job,” PolitiFact Ohio rated [*] his tweet as “False.” PolitiFact Texas and PolitiFact Wisconsin have chimed in with identical scoring of similar statements.

So, what does PolitiFact have against long division?

Had Anderson been a reader of this blog, he would know that when numbers act in defiance of predetermined talking points, PolitiFact simply invents new standards to measure them against. And when it comes to inventing new standards, PolitiFact Ohio gets its cue straight from the top:

After Republicans began to circulate the blog item, White House spokesman Jay Carney said its conclusions were "based on partial information and simply false analysis." White House spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn issued a statement that noted the Recovery Act bolstered infrastructure, education, and industries "that are critical to America’s long-term success and an investment in the economic future of America’s working families."

The White House points out that Recovery Act dollars didn’t just fund salaries - as the blog item implies - it also funded numerous capital improvements and infrastructure projects.

Lumping all costs together and classifying it as salaries produces an inflated figure.

Of course, PolitiFact fails to offer evidence that Anderson did classify the entire stimulus spending as salaries.

Here's where PolitiFact Ohio tags out, and PolitiFact Texas brings some new moves to the ring:

The White House points out that Recovery Act dollars didn’t just fund salaries — as the blog item implies. Lumping all stimulus costs together and classifying the total as salaries produces an inflated figure.

Oops! PF Ohio already said that. Let's try again:
We checked the White House report, and of the $666 billion stimulus total, 43 percent was spent on tax cuts for individuals and businesses; 19 percent went to state governments, primarily for education and Medicaid; and 13 percent paid for government benefits to individuals such as unemployment and food stamps.

The remainder, about 24 percent, was spent on projects such as infrastructure improvement, health information technology and research on renewable energy.

How would Anderson respond to this arithmetical assault?

There are a number of problems with these claims.

First, I never said that the $278,000 per job was all spent on salaries or wages. I would never attribute anything close to that degree of efficiency to the federal government.

I'm really starting to like this Anderson guy.

He continues:

As I wrote in my response to the White House, “This much is clear: Based on an estimate by Obama’s own economists, for every $278,000 in taxpayer-funded “stimulus” money that the Obama administration has spent — whatever it may have spent it on — the “stimulus” has added or saved just one job.” That remains an undeniable fact.

Anderson's article takes up another issue with the stimulus, which is that not only is it incredibly expensive per job created, he also contends that the stimulus is actually causing jobs to be lost. PolitiFact, unsurprisingly, took issue with that claim as well. But Anderson effortlessly debunks PolitiFact's debunkery:

The entire response on this point from PolitiFact (both the Ohio and Texas versions) is to cite Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi, who told the left-leaning website TPMDC that “the Weekly Standard misinterpreted that data.” That was good enough for PolitiFact. Never mind that Zandi is a Keynesian economist whose estimates of the stimulus’s likely effects were cited (see table 4) by Christina Romer, the first head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, before the “stimulus” was even passed. In other words, Zandi said it would work, and now he says it worked.

In the end we're left with yet another (and multiple) examples of PolitiFact taking an objective, verifiable statement, constructing a straw man, and quickly demolishing their creation. Anderson never implied that the $278,000 figure represented salaries per job. He was making a point regarding the expense of the stimulus overall and putting it into a context that was easily digested by readers. It's impressive (if not disturbing) the lengths PolitiFact went to in order to distort and discard Anderson's valid premise.

Our goal at PolitiFact Bias is to consolidate and condense the best critiques of PolitiFact and provide a collection point of those criticisms. It is not our prerogative nor desire to reprint full articles.This brief review doesn't do justice to Anderson's excellent and thorough work. As always, we encourage you to go to the source and read the whole thing.

On a side note, I'd like to add something I found amusing, repeated verbatim in both the PF Ohio and Texas editions:
Furthermore, the publication created its statistic with the report's low-end jobs estimate. Had it gone with the 3.6 million job figure at the top end of the range, it would have come up with a smaller $185,000 per job figure.
Are we to assume $185,000 per job created would bump the stimulus into the "successful" category?



Bryan adds:

I find it amusing that PolitiFact accepts Mark Zandi's opinions without comment yet spends much of another recent fact check attacking Florida governor Rick Scott's source because of its supposed partiality.

PolitiFact's work generally leaves the impression that it favors liberal sources in terms of both numbers and reputation.  One might say PolitiFact represents Groseclose liberal media syndrome on steroids.

Pending a rigorous evaluation, of course.


*In Anderson's article the original "PolitiFact Ohio rated" hyperlink linked back to Anderson's own piece. I changed it to link to the PF Ohio rating of Boehner's tweet that was described.-Jeff 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kiriath-Arba: "Lipstick on a Pig"

"Stormin Mormon" of the Kiriath-Arba site brought back some nostalgic memories of PolitiFact and the 2008 election with a 2008 post titled "Lipstick on a Pig."

Many will remember how the McCain campaign whined about then-candidate Barack Obama calling Sarah Palin a pig by analogy not long after the Republican convention.  How silly of him, right?

"Stormin Mormon" puts the pieces together correctly, noting the reaction of the crowd to Obama's line while also noting the thin defense set forth by PolitiFact:
Apparently evidence of the fact that this expression has been used in the past somehow expunges Obama from any guilt. That kind of intentionally obtuse analysis is pathetic. Everyone knows "lipstick on a pig" is a common expression, much like "making a purse out of pig's ear" or the more colorful "shining a turd" variants. But just because the expression has previous meaning doesn't mean Obama's comments were innocent. It just means he had the cover he needed to make an obviously pointed reference to Palin and could rely on the sycophants at PolitiFact.org to back him up.
Bingo!  And back him up they did.

One aspect of Obama's speech that remains largely overlooked was his twin analogy dismissing the type of change represented by the McCain/Palin campaign.  He segued straight from the lipstick on a pig comment to talking about "an old fish" wrapped in paper that will still stink. It simply isn't plausible that a twin analogy featuring "old" and "lipstick" in consecutive references is not designed to refer to McCain and Palin.

And Obama seems to wear a knowing smirk throughout.
 


Ah, those were the days!  Here's how PolitiFact summarized its ruling:
We think it's very clear that Obama was saying McCain's effort to call himself the "candidate of change" is like putting lipstick on a pig, trying to dress up a bad idea to look better. Agree or disagree with Obama's point, but his remark wasn't the smear that McCain's people have tried to make it.

If anyone's doing any smearing, it's the McCain campaign and its outrageous attempt to distort the facts. Did Obama call Palin a pig? No, and saying so is Pants on Fire wrong.
It's fair to say that the McCain campaign exaggerated what Obama did.  He didn't call her pig, exactly.  He called her a pig by analogy.  Palin was the pig in lipstick of change and McCain the old fish of change.  The McCain campaign's failure to make that distinction made their complaint backfire.  PolitiFact and the rest of the mainstream media earned an assist, transforming Obama into the victim in the process.

On reading "Game Change," the account of the 2008 presidential campaign by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, I was actually surprised it contained no report of some surreptitious high-fives in celebration of putting one over on the public and the mainstream media.

"Stormin Mormon" made a good set of comments about PolitiFact and the mass media, so visit and read it all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Domestic Church: "Analyzing political analysis -Politifact and Bill O'Reilly"

Blogger "Elena" at My Domestic Church (mydomesticchurch.com) notices the bias at PolitiFact:
This recent article on Politifact about the Poverty Rate is a good example of its liberal bias.  First of all, they are taking apart a comment made by Bill O'Reilly made on the Fox News Channel.
During the O'Reilly Factor segment, Bill O'Reilly claimed that President Johnson's "Great Society" programs had done little to decrease poverty and used as evidence an increase in the poverty rate from 14 percent in 1965 up to 14.3 percent in the present day.  O'Reilly was off on the first figure--it was 17.3 percent in 1965.

Elena observed:
Politifact says that this assertion that the poverty rate has stayed about the same is false. But on reading the Politifact article I wonder if they didn't actually prove O'Reilly's point:
Politifact says: • He uses the wrong numbers. The poverty rate -- the percentage of Americans whose income is lower than the federally determined poverty line -- was 17.3 percent in 1965, not 14 percent. For 2009, O’Reilly is correct -- the rate was 14.3 percent.

So if you compare the poverty rate in those two years, it has fallen by 3 percentage points, or by about one-sixth its original level. It didn’t stay roughly constant, as O’Reilly claimed.
Well, he really didn't say it was constant. Still if it was 17.3 in 1965 and it is now 14 or so, that's not very good progress to have in over 46 years!
Elena is exactly right that PolitiFact exaggerates O'Reilly's claim.  In fact, as she later points out, the PolitiFact story repeats the error in the conclusion, with "O’Reilly said the Great Society programs did nothing to reduce poverty."

Elena expands on her contention that PolitiFact's findings support O'Reilly's point with another observation:
But I got a good chuckle over this:
The poverty rate has fallen even further if you start counting a few years before the Great Society began. Between 1959 and 1962, the poverty rate ranged between 20 and 22 percent. If you compare that level to 2009, poverty declined by an even steeper rate -- by more than one-third.
So if we say the poverty rate was 22 in 1962 and fell to 17 in 1965, that's a drop of 5 points in three years - so couldn't we surmise that the poverty rate was dropping faster and further before the government programs started to interfere?
Touche.

Please read the rest here, and remember not to succumb to the error of dismissing information based solely on the source.  Content comes first.