Friday, June 2, 2017

An objective deception: "neutral" PolitiFact

PolitiFact's central deception follows from its presentation of itself as a "nonpartisan" and neutral judge of facts.

A neutral fact checker would apply the same neutral standards to every fact check. Naturally, PolitiFact claims it does just that. But that claim should not convince anyone given the profound level of inconsistency PolitiFact has achieved over the years.

To illustrate PolitiFact's inconsistency we'll use an example from 2014 via PolitiFact Rhode Island that we just ran across.

Rhode Island's Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said jobs in the solar industry outnumbered jobs in coal mining. PolitiFact used data from the Solar Foundation to help evaluate the claim, and included this explanation from the Solar Foundation's Executive Director Andrea Luecke:
Luecke said by the census report’s measure, "the solar industry is outpacing coal mining." But she noted, "You have to understand that coal-mining is one aspect of the coal industry - whereas we’re talking about the whole solar industry."

If you add in other coal industry categories, "it’s more than solar, for sure. But the coal-mining bucket is less, for sure."
Luecke correctly explained that comparing the numbers from the Solar Foundation's job census to "coal mining" jobs represented an apples-to-oranges comparison.

PolitiFact Rhode Island did not take the rigged comparison into account in rating Whitehouse's claim. PolitiFact awarded Whitehouse a "True" rating, defined as "The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing." We infer from the rating that PolitiFact Rhode Island regarded the apples-to-oranges comparison as insignificant.

However, when Mitt Romney in 2012 made substantially accurate claims about Navy ships and Air Force planes, PolitiFact based its rating on the apples-to-oranges angle:
This is a great example of a politician using more or less accurate statistics to make a meaningless claim. Judging by the numbers alone, Romney was close to accurate.


Thanks to the development of everything from nuclear weapons to drones, comparing today’s military to that of 60 to 100 years ago presents an egregious comparison of apples and oranges.
PolitiFact awarded Romney's claim its lowest-possible "Truth-O-Meter" rating, "Pants on Fire."

If Romney's claim was "meaningless" thanks to advances in military technology, is it not reasonable to regard Whitehouse's claim as similarly meaningless? PolitiFact Rhode Island didn't even mention government subsidies of the solar energy sector, nor did it try to identify Whitehouse's underlying argument--probably something along the lines of "Focusing on renewable energy sources like solar energy, not on fossil fuels, will help grow jobs and the economy!"

Comparing mining jobs to jobs for the whole solar energy sector offers no reasonable benchmark for comparing the coal energy sector as a whole to the solar energy sector as a whole.

Regardless of whether PolitiFact's people think they are neutral, their work argues the opposite. They do not apply their principles consistently.

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