Friday, July 21, 2017

The ongoing stupidity of PolitiFact California

PolitiFact on the whole stinks at fact-checking, but PolitiFact California is special. We don't use the word "stupid" lightly, but PolitiFact California has pried it from our lips multiple times already over its comparatively short lifespan.

PolitiFact's latest affront to reason comes from the following PolitiFact California (@CAPolitiFact) tweet:
The original fact check was stupid enough, but PolitiFact California's tweet twists that train wreck into an unrecognizable heap of metal.

  • The fact check discusses the (per year) odds of falling victim to a fatal terror attack committed by a refugee.
  • The tweet trumpets the (per year) odds of a fatal attack occurring.

The different claims require totally different calculations, and the fact that the tweet confused one claim for the other helps show how stupid it was to take the original fact-checked claim seriously in the first place.

The original claim said "The chances of being killed by a refugee committing a terrorist act is 1 in 3.6 billion." PolitiFact forgave the speaker for omitting "American" and "per year." Whatever.

But using the same data used to justify that claim, the per year chances of a fatal attack on an American (national risk, not personal) by a refugee occurring is 1 in 13.3. That figure comes from taking number of fatal attacks by refugees (3) and dividing by the number of years (40) covered by the data. Population numbers do not figure in the second calculation, unlike the first.

That outcome does a great deal to show the silliness of the original claim, which a responsible fact checker would have pointed out by giving more emphasis to the sensible expert from the Center on Immigration Studies:
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors stricter immigration policies, said the "one in 3.6 billion" statistic from the Cato study includes too many qualifiers. Notably, he said, it excludes terrorist attacks by refugees that did not kill anyone and those "we’ll never know about" foiled by law enforcement.

"It’s not that it’s wrong," Krikorian said of the Cato study, but its author "is doing everything he can to shrink the problem."
Krikorian stated the essence of what the fact check should have found if PolitiFact California wasn't stupid.

Correction July 21, 2017: Fixed typo where "bit" was substituted for "but" in the opening paragraph.

Clarification July 21, 2017: Added "(national risk, not personal)" to the eighth paragraph to enhance the clarity of the argument

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