Thursday, December 17, 2015

"There's not a lot of reader confusion" Update 2

The Houston Chronicle joins those suffering confusion over the significance of PolitiFact's "report cards."

The New York Times breathlessly excreted the "All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others." headline over an article by PolitiFact's Angie Drobnic Holan, even though the article mentioned nothing about intentional deceit--the commonly understood definition of "lie."

Rolling Stone published a graphic based on PolitiFact's ratings, following the Times' lead by calling false statements "lies" and framing the story as though percentages of false statements as judged by PolitiFact represent something significant.

Now along comes the Chronicle to provide its own endorsement of PolitiFact's junk science:
(PolitiFact) looked at top politicians and 2016 presidential candidates to analyze which ones have told the most false statements since 2007. The site’s editor Angie Drobnic Holan wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times about the results of their fact-checking campaign. See the politicians who lie the most in the gallery.
Once again we have equivocal language with "lie" standing in for false. And the word "analyze" creep in there somehow, as though totaling the different ratings for each candidate is some type of science. If it's any kind of science it's junk science.

Do we get any disclaimer about PolitiFact's dubious objectivity (and that's being generous) or the obvious selection bias problem?

No. Nothing closer than this:
Politifact only evaluates statements that are clear, precise and are not “obviously true.” The site does not look at opinions or predictions, but statements that the general public would be interested in knowing the truth about.
Chronicle readers who are familiar with science may be able to figure out from that paragraph that PolitiFact's stories are not chosen to make up a representative sample. That means the percentages of "lies" reported in the story have no firm basis in evidence.

PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan claims there's not much reader confusion about PolitiFact's report cards. If she was right then stories based on the report cards would not draw much reader interest. The report cards draw reader interest precisely because of the way they feed confirmation bias.

PolitiFact, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Houston Chronicle all appear perfectly willing to stoke that confirmation bias.

Here's a sampling of the absence of reader confusion from the comments section under the Chronicle story:
"SHOCKER...Conservative Republicans and Religious Right candidates lie more than their Liberal counterparts. Those darn facts are always getting in the way."

"I don't know what is more disturbing--the fact that Republican candidates lie up to 80% of the time, or that the more they lie, the more popular they are within the party."

"The GOP candidates have issued a higher percentages of lies then their Democratic counterparts and the President...shocking. These are only the Republicans we know of. The GOP own the majority of Congress thus probably own the largest share of those lies."

"Lying is what the GOP does best, it would appear."

"The far right nuts obviously have a problem with truth and accuracy. But we've known all this for years."

"There is a clear pattern in these data. Only the feckless liberals feel the need to be accurate. Only the weak form their opinions and policies based on evidence and logic."

"If you ever visit the site and read the analysis, the impact of the statement is weighted to determine how egregious any misinformation is, and also whether there is benefit of doubt."
Facts, evidence, logic.

No reader confusion there. No sirree.

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