Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Marc Lamont Hill and PolitiMath

A PunditFact rating of CNN pundit Marc Lamont Hill drew our attention today for its PolitiMath content.

PolitiMath takes place when math calculations appear to bear on whether a figure receives one "Truth-O-Meter" rating instead of another.  In this case, Hill received a "False" rating for claiming an unarmed black person is  shot by a cop every 28 hours.

PunditFact found Hill reached his conclusion using the numbers for black persons armed or unarmed. The total figure for both was 313. The figure for unarmed black people was 136.  The calculation is uncomplicated. Taking the number of hours in a 365-day year, we get 8760. Divide 8760 by 313 and we get Hill's 28-hour figure. Use what PunditFact said was the correct figure and we get 64 hours (8760/136).

Hill exaggerated the frequency of a unarmed black person dying from a police shooting by 124 percent.

We're certainly not saying that PolitiFact is in any way consistent with how it classifies errors by percentage, but for comparison Florida lawmaker Will Weatherford made a statistical claim that was off by about 49 percent and received a "False" rating. Democrat Gerry Connolly, on the other hand, managed to wring a "Mostly False" rating out of a statistic that was off by about 45 percent.

Perhaps this is just science at work. Given reality's liberal bias, it may make sense to grade errors of the same percentage more harshly where they affect liberally-biased truths. Fact checkers could be guilty of false equivalency by acting as though the truth is simply objective.

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