Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A "Half True" update

Years ago, I pointed out to PolitiFact that it had offered readers two different definitions of "Half True." In November 2011, I posted to note PolitiFact's apparent acknowledgment of the problem, evidenced by its effort to resolve the discrepant definitions.

It's over five years later. But PolitiFact Florida (archived version, just in case PolitiFact Florida notices something amiss) either did not get the memo or failed to fully implement the change.
We then decide which of our six rulings should apply:

TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
HALF TRUE – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
PolitiFact Florida still publishes what was apparently the original standard PolitiFact definition of "Half True." PolitiFact National revised its definition in 2011, adding "partially" to the definition so it read "The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

PolitiFact Florida uses the updated definition on its main page, and directs readers to PolitiFact's main "principles" page for more information.

It's not even clear if PolitiFact Florida's main page links to PolitiFact Florida's "About" page. It may be a vestigial limb of sorts, helping us trace PolitiFact's evolution.

In one sense, the inconsistency means relatively little. After all, PolitiFact's founder, Bill Adair, has himself said that the "Truth-O-Meter" ratings are "entirely subjective." That being the case, it matters little whether "partially" occurs in the definition of "Half True."

The main problem from the changing definition comes from PolitiFact's irresponsible publication of candidate "report cards" that supposedly help voters decide which candidate they ought to support.

Why should subjective report cards make any difference in preferring one candidate over another?

The changing definition creates one other concern--one that I've written about before: Academic researchers (who really ought to know better) keep trying to use PolitiFact's ratings as though they represent reliable truth measurements. That by itself is a preposterous idea, given the level of subjectivity inherent in PolitiFact's system. But the inconsistency of the definition of "Half True" makes it even sillier.

PolitiFact's repeated failure to fix the problems we point out helps keep us convinced that PolitiFact checks facts poorly. We think a left-leaning ideological bubble combined with the Dunning-Kruger effect best explains PolitiFact's behavior in these cases.

Reminder: PolitiFact made a big to-do about changing the label "Barely True" to "Mostly False," but shifted the definition of "Half True" without letting the public in on the long-running discrepancy.

Too much transparency?



Clarification July 18, 2017: Changed "PolitiFact" to "PolitiFact Florida" in the second paragraph after the block quotation.

This post also appears at the blog "Sublime Bloviations"

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