Sunday, February 2, 2020

PolitiFact updates its website, makes "Corrections and Updates" even harder to find (Updated: Fixed!)

Over the years we've enjoyed poking fun at PolitiFact's haphazard observance of its policy on corrections. Aside from simply not doing quite a few needed corrections, PolitiFact does things like:
  • Correcting stories without a correction notice
  • Not tagging stories with "Corrections and Updates" as promised in its statement of principles
We've also needled PolitiFact over the way it hides its supposedly transparent page of corrected or updated claims. Looking up "corrections and updates" along with "PolitiFact" using a search engine would allow readers to easily find the page, but finding that page from PolitiFact's home page was so hilariously complicated that we posted instructions on how to do it.

Now in February 2020 PolitiFact has revamped its website and at long last fixed the problem succeeded in making the problem even worse.

Hopefully the worsening of the situation is only temporary, but PolitiFact's history marinates that hope in thick, gooey skepticism.

Our Feb. 1, 2020 survey of the PolitiFact website makes the "Corrections and Updates" page look like an orphan.

We tried to help. Seriously.

When I (Bryan) heard on Twitter that PolitiFact was updating its website, I tweeted out a reminder for PolitiFact to make its "Corrections and Updates" page more available to readers:

Instead of fixing it, the "Corrections and Updates" page is one of the very few (this is the only other one we found) that did not experience a facelift in keeping with the new look of the website.

For our money, the redesign looks pretty bad on the big screen. And it's not much better on mobile.

But one thing we did like, though perhaps that means it won't last.

What We Liked

In addition to PolitiFact's dodgy behavior on corrections, we've endlessly criticized PolitiFact for publishing sciencey-looking graphs of aggregated "Truth-O-Meter" ratings with no regular disclaimer attached. The ratings are subjective and PolitiFact does not attempt to choose a scientifically representative sample of claims. So the graphs are nonsense in terms of representing a politician's overall reliability.

PolitiFact still isn't attaching any disclaimer, but the new design largely neuters the visual impact of its graphs.

Let's look at Donald Trump's PolitiFact "scorecard" before and after the update.


That has some visual impact. The graph groups the bars closely, emphasizing the visual difference between, say, 5 percent and 35 percent.


What a difference! Thirty-four percent looks visually smaller on the new graph than 5 percent looked on the old graph. Sure, there's an attempt to spice it up by adding colors, but the short graph scale and thin lines suck away almost all of the impact.

Do we think PolitiFact did this intentionally so that the graphs would do less to mislead readers? No, unless it's part of an effort to farm out the deception.* But if it stands, it doesn't really matter if it's an accident or a mistake. PolitiFact will probably deceive fewer of its readers as a result.

One Other Positive!

PolitiFact has always offered the total number of each rating for individual politicians. But now it is publishing the totals for PolitiFact as a whole, as well as the states.

That makes doing certain types of research on PolitiFact's numbers easier. Though researchers will still need to realize that the subjectivity of the ratings means they tell researchers about PolitiFact, not so much about the politicians making the claims.

It's a very simple matter now to document how many more ratings Donald Trump has received than did Barack Obama, and in a shorter span of time as candidate/president.

*The downside? Those who are motivated to use PolitiFact "data" to prove Republicans are liars and whatnot will have less work to do in collecting the numbers. People irresponsibly publishing such nonsense may end up misleading more people in spite of the positives we noted.


Centered text? Seriously?

Updated Feb. 3, 2020 with edits thought already complete: strikethrough and URL linking earlier PFB post about finding PolitiFact's "Corrections and updates" page.

Update Feb 4, 2020: Whether it was the plan all along or whether in response to our cajoling, PolitiFact has added "Corrections and Updates" to its menu, under the heading "About Us."  That fixes one of our major complaints about PolitiFact. Now will PolitiFact add corrected "articles" to its list of corrected stories?

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