Tuesday, April 7, 2015

But-but-but ... Experts!

I can imagine the PolitiFact apologist noticing that in our comparison between PolitiFact's alligator attack and shark attack stories that experts only complained about the silliness of the alligator attack comparison.

So, logically, it's not PolitiFact Florida's fault that the alligator attack comparison was silly while the shark attack comparison wasn't silly.

So there! Reality just has a liberal bias, and stuff.

Well, I covered this angle when I wrote up the alligator attack story at Zebra Fact Check.

Interpreting the comparison is not rightly the job of the criminology expert, nor the alligator attack expert. Those experts properly inform as to the number of attacks by concealed-carry permit holders, or the number of alligator attacks. It is the expert on English communications (if needed) that rightly evaluates the comparison. And in this case I challenge any expert on English to draw a principled distinction between PolitiFact Florida's stories on alligator and shark attacks. Both compare rare but dramatically different things. Both involve a number for which we don't have reliable statistics.

On the issue of experts pointing out the silliness of the comparison, the real question is why experts didn't call both comparisons silly.

Perhaps it was random variation.

Perhaps PolitiFact Florida didn't feel the need to interview a panel of experts about voter fraud.

Perhaps the experts carry their own political bias.

We think a fact checker should be able to make the call on a literary comparison that demands no particular English or logical expertise. And with respect to the alligator attack and shark attack stories, the call should be the same for both.

I'll reiterate what I wrote at Zebra Fact Check: Fact checkers should not allow experts to decide an issue outside their area of expertise.

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