Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Speaking of Selection Bias...

Alan Colmes has now jumped into the discussion (by repeating a Political Wire post) about the Smart Politics review of PolitiFact's selection bias.

In a truly amazing feat, Colmes (and Political Wire) managed to completely ignore the point of Eric Ostermeier's article, presenting the finding that PolitiFact more frequently rates Republicans negatively as proof that Republicans lie more often.

Check out the Colmes headline-
Republicans’ Statements Untrue Three Times As Often As Those Of Democrats
Colmes made absolutely no mention of the fact that Ostermeier was suggesting that the lopsided figures point to selection bias at PolitiFact. This is how Colmes treated the study-
"An analysis by Smart Politics of more than 500 stories during the past year show that statements made by Republican politicians are false three times as often as those made by Democrats."
Representing Ostermeier's piece as the polar opposite of what it is takes either an act of denial or more likely a shoddy job at research.

Compounding the error, Colmes, et al. ignore the focus of the study. Ostermeier's article dealt specifically with the issue of selection bias, i.e. the notion that PolitiFact's editors are more inclined to select outlandish or questionable statements from the GOP. This still leaves the issue of the quality of the ratings themselves untouched. As Ostermeier noted-
"Assuming for the purposes of this report that the grades assigned by PolitiFact are fair (though some would challenge this assumption), there has nonetheless been a great discrepancy regarding which political parties' officials and officeholders receive the top ratings and those that are accused of not telling the truth."
(bold emphasis added)
Colmes' careless posting of misleading information exemplifies how PolitiFact's opinionated brand of journalism can be misrepresented as objective fact, and repeated throughout the echo chamber.

Feb. 16, 2011  Corrected misspelled version of Eric Ostermeier's last name in one of the middle paragraphs.  Also added some new hyperlinks and a definite article in the first sentence.

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