Thursday, November 6, 2014

PunditFact PolitiFail on Ben Shapiro, with PolitiMath

On Nov. 6, 2014 PunditFact provided yet another example why the various iterations of PolitiFact do not deserve serious consideration as fact checkers (we'll refer to PolitiFact writers as bloggers and the "fact check" stories as blogs from here on out as a considered display of disrespect).

PunditFact reviewed a claim by Truth Revolt's Ben Shapiro that a majority of Muslims are radical. PunditFact ruled Shapiro's claim "False" based on the idea that Shapiro's definition of "radical" and the numbers used to justify his claim were, according to PunditFact, "almost meaningless."

Lost on PunditFact was the inherent difficulty of ruling "False" something that's almost meaningless. Definite meanings lend themselves to verification or falsification. Fuzzy meanings defy those tests.

PunditFact's blog was literally filled with laughable errors, but we'll just focus on three for the sake of brevity.

First, PunditFact faults Shapiro for his broad definition of "radical," but Shapiro explains very clearly what he's up to in the video where he made the claim. There's no attempt to mislead the viewer and no excuse to misinterpret Shapiro's purpose.

Second, PunditFact engages in its own misdirection of its readers. In PunditFact's blog, it reports how Muslims "favor sharia." Pew Research explains clearly what that means: Favoring sharia means favoring sharia as official state law. PunditFact never mentions what Pew Research means by "favor sharia."

Do liberals think marrying church and state is radical? You betcha. Was PunditFact deliberately trying to downplay that angle? Or was the reporting just that bad? Either way, PunditFact provides a disservice to its readers.

Third, PunditFact fails to note that Shapiro could easily have increased the number of radicalized Muslims in his count. He drew his totals from a limited set of nations for which Pew Research had collected data. Shapiro points this out near the end of the video, but it PunditFact either didn't notice or else determined its readers did not need to know.


PunditFact used what it calls a "reasonable" method of counting radical Muslims to supposedly show how Shapiro engaged in cherry-picking. We've pointed out at least two ways PunditFact erred in its methods, but for the sake of PolitiMath we'll assume PunditFact created an apt comparison between its "reasonable" method and Shapiro's alleged cherry-picking.

Shapiro counted 680 million radical Muslims. PunditFact counted 181.8 million. We rounded both numbers off slightly.

Taking PunditFact's 181.8 million as the baseline, Shapiro exaggerated the number of radical Muslims by 274 percent. That may seem like a big enough exaggeration to warrant a "False" rating. But it's easy to forget that the bloggers at PunditFact gave Cokie Roberts a "Half True" for a claim exaggerated by about 9,000 percent. PunditFact detected a valid underlying argument from Roberts. Apparently Ben Shapiro has no valid underlying argument that there are plenty of Muslims around who hold religious views that meet a broad definition of "radical."


Liberal bias is as likely an explanation as any.


Shapiro makes some of the same points we make with his own response to PunditFact.

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