Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another day, another deceptive PolitiFact chart

On election day, PolitiFact helpfully trotted out a set of its misleading "report card" graphs, including an updated version of its comparison between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

What is the point of publishing such graphs?

The graphs make an implicit argument to prefer the Democratic Party nominee in the general election. See how much more honest she is! Or, alternatively, see how the Republican tells many falsehoods!

The problem? This is the same PolitiFact deception we have pointed out for years.

The chart amounts to a political ad, making the claim Clinton is more truthful than Trump. But to properly support that conclusion, the underlying data should fairly represent typical political claims from Clinton and Trump--the sort of thing scientific studies capture by randomizing the capture of data.

In the same vein, a scientific study would allow for verification of its ratings. A scientific study would permit this process by using a carefully defined set of ratings. One might then duplicate the results by independently repeating the fact check and reaching the same results.

Yet none of that is possible with these collected "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.

Randomly selected stories aren't likely to grip readers. So editors select the fact-checks to maximize reader interest and/or serve some notion of the public good.

So much for a random sample.

And trying to duplicate the ratings through following objective scientific procedure counts as futile. PolitiFact editor Bill Adair recently confirmed this yet again with the frank admission that "the decision about a Truth-O-Meter rating is entirely subjective."

So much for objectively verifying the results.

PolitiFact passes off graphs of its opinions as though they represent hard data about candidate truthfulness.

This practice ought to offend any conscientious journalist, and that should go double for any conscientious fact-checking journalist.

We have called for PolitiFact to include some type of disclaimer each time it publishes this type of item. Such disclaimers happen only on occasion. The example embedded in this post contains no hint of a disclaimer.

Wonder why Republicans and Trump voters do not trust mainstream media fact-checking?

Take a look in the mirror, PolitiFact.

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