Friday, November 28, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Different strokes for different folks

Folk A: President Barack Obama

Obama claimed border crossings are at the lowest level since the 1970s.
We cannot directly check Obama's literal claim -- which would include the number of people who failed and succeeeded to cross the border -- because those statistics are not maintained by the federal government.
Truth-O-Meter rating: "Half True"

Folk B: Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani said blacks and whites are acquitted of murder at about the same rate.
We couldn't find any statistical evidence to support Giuliani’s claim, and experts said they weren't aware of any, either. We found some related data, but that data only serves to highlight some of the racial disproportion in the justice system.
We found "related data" PolitiFact apparently couldn't find:
Blacks charged with murder, rape and other major crimes are more likely to be acquitted by juries or freed because of a dismissal than white defendants, according to an analysis of Justice Department statistics.
Truth-O-Meter rating: "False"

Different strokes for different folks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

PolitiFact and the Forbidden Fact Check

Democrats have thrown around plenty of accusation of racism over the years. So why haven't fact checkers like PolitiFact stuck their non-partisan fact-checking noses into those claims (Zebra Fact Check has done it)?

Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski gives us the latest example spilling from the lips of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). Thompson was defending President Obama from criticism of his executive action on immigration:
“He’s not doing anything that the Bushes, the Reagans, the Clintons, and other presidents all the way back to Eisenhower, as it addressed immigration. So but again, this is just a reaction in Bennie Thompson’s words to a person of color being in the White House.”
Opposition to Obama's action on immigration is just a reaction to a person of color being in the White House, Thompson says.



Nothing to see here?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lost letters to PolitiFact Bias

We discovered a lost letter of sorts intended in response to our recent post "Fact-checking while blind, with PolitiMath."

Jon Honeycutt, posting to PolitiFact's Facebook page, wrote that he posted a comment to this site but it never appeared. I posted to Facebook in response to Honeycutt, including the quotation of his criticism in my reply:
Jon Honeycutt (addressing "PolitiFact Bias") wrote:
Hmm, just looked into 'politifact bias', the very first article I read Claimed that politifact found a 20% difference in the congressional approval rating but still found the meme mostly true. But when you read the actual article they link to, politifact found about a 3% difference. Then when I tried to comment to correct it, my comment never appeared.
Jon, I'm responsible for the article you're talking about. You found no mistake. As I wrote, "percentage error calculations ours." That means PolitiFact didn't bother calculating the error by percentage. The 3 percent different you're talking about is a difference in terms of percentage *points*. It's two different things. We at PolitiFact Bias are much better at those types of calculations than is PolitiFact. You were a bit careless with your interpretation.I have detected no sign of any attempt to comment on that article. Registration is required or else we get anonymous nonsense. I'd have been quite delighted to defend the article against your complaint.
To illustrate the point, consider a factual figure of 10 percent and a mistaken estimate of 15 percent. The difference between the two is 5 percentage points. But the percentage error is 50 percent. That's because the estimate exceeds the true figure by that percentage (15-10=5, 5/10=.5).

Don't be shy, would-be critics! We're no less than 10 times better than is PolitiFact at responding to criticism, based on past performance. The comments section is open to those who register, and anyone who is a member of Facebook can post to our Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fact-checking while blind, with PolitiMath

One of the things we would predict from biased journalists is a forgiving eye for claims for which the journalist sympathizes.

Case in point?

A Nov. 11, 2014 fact check from PolitiFact's Louis Jacobson and intern Nai Issa gives a "True" rating to a Facebook meme claiming Congress has 11 percent approval while in 2014 96.4 percent of incumbents successfully defended their seats.

PolitiFact found the claim about congressional approval was off by about 20 percent and the one about the percentage of incumbents was off by a maximum of 1.5 percent (percentage error calculations ours). So, in terms of PolitiMath the average error for the two claims was 10.75 percent yet PolitiFact ruled the claim "True." The ruling means the 11 percent average error is insignificant in PolitiFact's sight.

Aside from the PolitiMath angle, we were intrigued by the precision of the Facebook meme. Why 96.4 percent and not an approximate number by 96 or 97? And why, given that PolitiFact often excoriates its subjects for faulty methods, wasn't PolitiFact curious about the fake precision of the meme?

Even if PolitiFact wasn't curious, we were. We looked at the picture conveying the meme and saw the explanation in the lower right-hand corner.

Red highlights scrawled by the PolitiFact Bias team. Image from

It reads: "Based on 420 incumbents who ran, 405 of which kept their seats in Congress."

PolitiFact counted 415 House and Senate incumbents, counting three who lost primary elections. Not counting undecided races involving Democrats Mark Begich and Mary Landrieu, incumbents held 396 seats.

So the numbers are wrong, using PolitiFact's count as the standard of accuracy, but PolitiFact says the meme is true.

It was fact-checked, after all.

Nothing To See Here: Krugman plays lawyer

With a hat tip to Power Line blog and John Hinderaker, we present our latest "Nothing To See Here" moment where we highlight a fact check that PolitiFact may or may not notice.

Nobel Prize-winning economist and partisan hack Paul Krugman krugsplains the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and tells his readers why the challenge is ridiculous:
(N)ot only is it clear from everything else in the act that there was no intention to set such limits, you can ask the people who drafted the law what they intended, and it wasn’t what the plaintiffs claim.
We're not offering any hints why Krugman's claim interests conservatives.

Krugman's talking about the Halbig case, where a D.C. Circuit panel ruled the language of the ACA specifies that state-established exchanges could receive federal subsidies but made no such provision for exchanges set up by the federal government. The en banc D.C. court, not-at-all-packed-with-three-unfilibusterable-Obama-appointed-liberal-judges, later reversed the panel's ruling.

Nothing to see here?

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.