Thursday, July 28, 2016

Is PolitiFact California stupid? Mike Pence and the mythical denial of evolution (Updated)

Note July 30, 2016: Since we published this post, PolitiFact has scrapped its original fact-check of Gov. Brown and published a heavily revised version giving Brown's claim about Mike Pence a "Half True" rating. We've appended an update to our original article in response and updated the link to the original story by linking to the Internet Archive version.

PolitiFact California has ruled it "True" [original version at the Internet Archive] that Republican candidate for vice president Mike Pence denied evolution exists. But PolitiFact California provided absolutely no evidence that Pence ever made any such denial.

Is PolitiFact California stupid?



PolitiFact California relied for its evidence on a Pence interview from "Hardball," a television program hosted by journalist Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS:
You want to educate the American people about science and its relevance today.  Do you believe in evolution, sir?

PENCE:
I—do I believe in evolution?  I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that‘s in them.

MATTHEWS:
Right. But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it??

PENCE:
The means, Chris, that he used to do that, I can‘t say.
Pence's answer to Matthews falls squarely squarely into the agnostic realm. Pence tells Matthews that he does not know whether (theistic) evolution explains creation. It's worth noting, however, that later in the interview Matthews charges that Pence believes in evolution but will not admit it for fear of offending his conservative constituency. Matthews knows something PolitiFact California does not?

Stating one does not know whether God created the universe by evolution is not nearly the same thing as a denial that evolution exists.

This is the fact of the matter: PolitiFact California nowhere provided any evidence to support Jerry Brown's charge that Pence denied evolution exists. Rating the claim "True" just makes PolitiFact California look stupid. And biased.




Update July 29, 2016: Deleted a redundant word in the last paragraph.



Update July 30, 2016

In the afternoon of July 29, 2016, PolitiFact archived its original "True" rating for Gov. Brown and published a new version of the fact check, this time giving Brown a "Half True" rating.

The new version continues PolitiFact California's cutesy inclusion of irrelevancies like Pence's skepticism of climate change. Is PolitiFact hinting at a causal relationship between skepticism of climate change and denial of evolution? If not, we don't see the relevance.

Our take? PolitiFact California half fixed the problem with its fact check. It's not reasonable to take the lack of any solid evidence of a denial and to then say that the claim of a denial is half true.

Jeff D. put it well on Twitter:
The fact is that PolitiFact does not have evidence Pence even expressed skepticism of the existence of evolution.

The worst that can be said of Pence on the issue of evolution is that his statement admits to doubt that evolution explains the origin and diversity of life on earth. But even evolutionists like Sir Francis Crick have expressed such doubts. Crick, in his book "Life Itself," proposed that life on earth was seeded from elsewhere in the universe.

The problem for PolitiFact California stems from the many ways in which the word "evolution" is understood. Gov. Brown's phrasing hints that Pence rejected every facet of evolution up to and including descent with modification. Pence's answer to Matthews' questions appeared to use "evolution" in the broader sense of explaining the origin and diversity of life.

The failure to strictly define the key term helps lead to a muddled and useless fact check.

It makes no sense to call it "Half True" that Pence denied evolution when one can produce no reasonable evidence in support of the claim. This is the best PolitiFact California can do:
Pence’s comments could be interpreted as rejecting evolution, but there’s no hard evidence to back up that idea.
Of course it's possible to interpret Pence's words as a denial of evolution: All it takes is a little fallacious thinking.

PolitiFact dropping its ruling of Brown to "Half True" was a half measure.





Edit: Added link to PF's Half True version at "Half True" text in first paragraph of Update. -Jeff 0828 PST 7/30/16

13 comments:

  1. Thank you for your work to expose politifact for what they are. Another shill of the democratic party that parades itself as an objective news source.

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  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Mike. Spread the word, please!

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  3. Hi, I think the last sentence of the Pence quote should read: "That means, Chris, *what* he used to do that, I can't say."

    The word in asterisks makes more sense if it is "what" instead of "that".

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    1. The transcript may well be wrong on that point, but it doesn't seem like the type of thing that will make it impossible to understand the context.

      We're not keen on messing with the transcript "Hardball's" parent company produced for the show. Nor are we wild about producing our own transcript from scratch.

      But we do appreciate you reading the article and pointing out the likely discrepancy.

      Delete
  4. Mike Pence said that he did not know if evolution is the means by which God created all life. That is a denial of evolution. Agnosticism has to do with belief in God, not belief in science. There are no scientific agnostics.

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    1. Unknown wrote:

      **Mike Pence said that he did not know if evolution is the means by which God created all life. That is a denial of evolution. Agnosticism has to do with belief in God, not belief in science. There are no scientific agnostics.**

      Anticipating complaints like yours in advance, I included a hyperlink to the definition of "agnostic" in the article (the word itself is hyperlinked). It can apply to any area of knowledge.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Delete
  5. The argument that life may have been seeded from space has nothing to do with evolution and thus should not play a role here.

    Evolution makes no claims about the origins of life, but about the development life on earth. Don't mix that up please.

    The fact that we can only assume how life started on earth doesn't falsify or even undermine the assumptions made under the theory of evolution.

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    1. nazfalas wrote:

      **The argument that life may have been seeded from space has nothing to do with evolution and thus should not play a role here.**

      Got argument?

      **Evolution makes no claims about the origins of life, but about the development life on earth. Don't mix that up please.**

      Blame the University of California at Berkeley. Or any of the other hundreds of citations I can offer to show your mistake.

      http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/origsoflife_01

      **The fact that we can only assume how life started on earth doesn't falsify or even undermine the assumptions made under the theory of evolution.**

      One of the sometimes unpleasant facts about words is that we cannot train them to only be used the way we wish. Words have their meaning according to the way people use them. People use the word "evolution" to encompass the origin of life. That's just reality.

      Delete
    2. That is still just factually wrong. Fields like researchon abiogenesis are concerned with the origin of biological lifeforms. The only way that is connected to the theory of evolution is that it would provide the starting point to the process observed.

      I get the feeling you are not sincerely interested in acknowledging this difference, though.

      Here's a neat explanation, though. As you linked to BerkeleyI thought you might have found that yourself.

      http://www.evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/misconceps/IAorigintheory.shtml

      Delete
    3. nazfalas won't give up:

      **That is still just factually wrong.**

      Remember how I told you I'd be able to produce hundreds of citations supporting it? What do you intend to do about it? Repeat yourself? Stomp your feet? Hold your breath?

      **Fields like researchon abiogenesis are concerned with the origin of biological lifeforms. The only way that is connected to the theory of evolution is that it would provide the starting point to the process observed.**

      So you've never heard the term "chemical evolution"? I find that surprising.

      **I get the feeling you are not sincerely interested in acknowledging this difference, though.**

      True. I'm not interested in agreeing with what you falsely believe. I know better.

      **Here's a neat explanation, though.**

      You're seeing what you want to see. That short bit is talking specifically about the "theory of evolution," which put simply is "decent with modification" or "a change in the frequency of alleles over time." Obviously those do not happen until you've got either descent or alleles. But, on the other hand, your citation doesn't close the door on mine. It features sentences like this one: " Evolutionary theory deals mainly with how life changed after its origin."

      Note how is says "mainly" and not "exclusively"?

      I can give hundreds of citations supporting my position. Can you give one in clear support of yours?

      Delete
  6. Well the point is they got you to read it, which is the motive. Of any writer. sometimes the media puts out an assemblage of news that is fit to slant.

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  7. There is a video of him denying evolution on Youtube. He is speaking to Congress. https://youtu.be/9ILy1r7rRb8

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    1. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Alice.

      Even if the video showed Pence explicitly denying evolution, that would not help justify PolitiFact's original "False" rating nor its current "Half True" rating, as PolitiFact did not use any solid evidence to back its rulings.

      As for the video, it doesn't show Pence denying evolution, either. It does show him more clearly skeptical of evolution and challenging the teaching of it as fact, but the video cuts out the scientific basis of that criticism. You can find that here, from the Congressional Record.

      https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2002/7/11/house-section/article/h4527-1?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22mike+pence%5C%22%22%5D%7D

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