Into the Raven Mirror
How to Lie With a Graph

I am referring to this article on The Daily Beast which has a great example of How to Lie With a Graph:

Graph of Unemployment and Job Gains

Let’s count the sins of this particular graph:

First, it represents a single dimension of data in two dimensions.  The boxes X and Y axises are differently scaled, which means we are using an area to represent a single dimension of data.  This is, by itself, exceedingly misleading. 

Second, it isn’t clear what sort of boxing strategy they are using for presidential terms.  Personally I am less inclined to credit job loss or gain in a president’s first year versus their next two.   If we do that, the numbers look very different. 

The final, and most damning problem. The problem which turns this graph from ignorant to willfully misleading is that it is comparing two term presidents to one term presidents and looking only at the snapshot of the end of their terms. 

Just looking at the unemployment statistics (let alone the jobs gained statistic, where this is even more egregious): In May of 1984–when Reagan was seeking reelection–unemployment was at 7.4%, not 5.4%.  The may before that it was 10.1%, higher than it has ever gotten during President Obama’s first term.  In May 1996 it was 5.6%, not 4.2%.  

In terms of jobs gained we are comparing Truman, who assumed the office partway through another president’s term and then went on to serve another term with Clinton, who served two full terms (and had a larger population base to work with). 

Finally, we aren’t working with labeled axises and there’s no sense of continuity, time, or ordering to the location of the boxes. 

It’s a completely dishonest graph, and shows how badly so many political graph makers botch basic graph making, or distort it to prove their point. 

CISPA, SOPA, and Such

I recently have seen, going around, an image on “this website has been shut down due to CISPA.”  The same sort of format used for the PIPA and SOPA

This is a manifestation of something I’ve mentioned before.

Not every onerous bill out there is PIPA/SOPA.


No, seriously. Repeat after me: CISPA will not censor or shut down the internet like SOPA would have, and there are some fundamental differences in the legislation and the reasons to oppose it are radically different.  The reasons to oppose SOPA/PIPA were due to its ability to shut down the internet.  It was being done in the name of protecting corporate interests.

CISPA is about consumer privacy. It’s being done in the name of “security.”  There are a myriad of good reasons to oppose it, hence why it is currently facing a veto threat based around exactly these reasons.  You can see if you congressional representative has voted for it.  Then, please, go make your voice heard and tell your senator not to support it.  Also take the time to try and understand the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act and make a decision on whether to support it. 

But effective advocacy requires an understanding of the bills being passed and what they would and would not do.  CISPA is not “the next SOPA,” it should be rejected on its own problems. 

The Challenge of Choosing Symbolic Companies

There is a disturbing trend that is growing throughout various protest groups and activists.  It is the tendency for them to pick symbolic companies and specifically target them for protest, not because that company is particularly egregious of an offender for whatever the cause is, but because they are a fairly iconic company and thus it makes their point higher profile.

Take, for example, Apple.

Greenpeace has, over the years, repeatedly hammered Apple on its environmental policies.  Naming it the “least green" tech company for a few years, and continual running advertising talking about the horrors of how much Apple pollutes.

The problem? Apple has a better track record than most of their competitors, including into the years where Grenpeace was making those claims, and Greenpeace was making its evaluations more off of the publicly released plans than what the companies were actually doing.  Steve Jobs commented on them that “I think your organization particularly depends too much on principle and not enough on fact.”  A fairly substantial criticism that has been made of Greenpeace repeatedly over the years, by more than just industry leaders.

We see something similar with Foxconn and Apple.  Foxconn makes a great many things that pervade everyday life here in the United States.  They make products for companies such as Dell, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Sony, and Samsung.  They don’t just manufacture the iPad, they also manufacture the Wii, the Kindle, and the XBox.  Yet allegations of poor worker conditions repeatedly seem to focus on the iPad, iPod, etc., rather than on the broader issues.

Similarly, people regularly pick on Amazon to draw attention to the core issue of conditions in warehouses and in shipping.  Not because they are the worst offender, not because they are the best example, but simply because they are prominent.

To an extent, I understand what is going on here. Targeting the iPad makes a big publicity stir.  It gets your cause covered, and the companies and products being targeted are far from perfect and potentially quite deserving of criticism.  Saying that you are boycotting Dell just doesn’t carry quite the same impact from an activism standpoint as telling people that you are boycotting Apple.  

Yet there seems to be something of a fundamental disconnect when people criticize Apple for Foxconn, then turn around purchase a tablet or phone that was made by Foxconn through another company. Or purchase a phone that was not made by Foxconn, but by workers who were working in similar–or worse–conditions in China or another country.  Especially if that company has made bigger strides than other segments of the industry in that field: They need to be praised for their accomplishments, even while holding them accountable for their faults.

If you care about something passionately and think it is wrong, then make your voice heard, but do your homework and be rational about it. To quote the article Hating Apple is Stupid, Unless You’re Gonna Hate Everyone:

If you’re really offended by what you’ve heard about the way a company does business, don’t do business with them. But make sure you vet their competitors before you go doing business with them,either. You might not approve of conditions in the Foxconn plants that make iPad 2s, but are you sure you’re okay with how Kindle Fire assemblers are treated? What about the plants that churn out Galaxy Tabs, are they better? Or Transformer Prime – the Prime assembly lines are cool, right? Not sure? Better not buy any of those tablets, then.

If you want to attack the system, then attack the system.  Don’t try to make any one company a scapegoat for the practices of the entire industry.  Else you might end up attacking a company that could be your greatest ally.   You shouldn’t bully them into acting while propping up others that are engaged in the same practices, or worse, and doing far less. 

The Truth-O-Meter™ Gimmick

My previous post talked about my objections to the so-called “Obamameter” that the website Politifact uses.  Now I am going to aim to discuss their signature item: the Truth-O-Meter™.

The challenge with a lot of fact checking is that statements are seldom flat true or flat false on their face.  Truth is nuanced. There are assumptions, models, caveats, and context.  Even if we both agree that a statement is lacking in context, we may reasonably disagree whether that context is critical to the core meaning of what has been said, and how much context is critical.

So when President Obama spoke on the matter of private sector job growth in the 2012 State of the Union, there were a few caveats on the statement. The statement was absolutely true on its face, but the following questions come up:

  • Who is really responsible for how much of it?
  • Was President Obama taking credit for it and to what degree, given that it was a State of the Union address?
  • It is also worth noting that it is still down from where we started, so it should not be construed that we are recovered.

All fair enough to point out, but the challenge comes in when the question gets asked: “How do we rate this on a linear scale?”  Politifact started by rating it Half True despite that by their own analysis (and that of  FactCheck.org) the actual statement was absolutely true.  So in terms of what he said: True. Whether he is taking credit for it unnecessarily and to what degree that matters… is a difficult question, and not one that fits neatly on a scale that goes from “Pants on Fire” to “True.”  It’s also one where reasonable people can disagree to some extent, or at least where there is room for discussion.

The same is true when they evaluated the question of the Democrats claim that the Republican plan was looking to “end medicare.”  The answer is… what do you consider the core of Medicare? How much qualification is required before that statement becomes True, or at least debatable?

Fact checking isn’t about making an absolute judgement of truth or falsity, because such judgements can obscure the actual debate rather than illuminate.  They should be something to help voters make up their minds, not something that makes an absolute statement.

But Politifact doesn’t see it that way.  It sees the Truth-O-Meter™ as absolutely core to their business, and likes to rate claims on that scale no matter how amenable the nuances of the claim are to being evaluated.   This means that many of the objections to Politifact have nothing to do with their analysis, but on the basis of their final rating (e.g., Rachel Maddow’s recent criticism doesn’t focus on their analysis, and uses their analysis to critique their rating).

Cleveland.com published an editorial on their use of politifact that stated:

I’d guess that more than 90 percent of the complaints of bias I’ve gotten about PolitiFact Ohio have been not about the reporting, but about the rating on the Truth-O-Meter.

The problem with the Truth-O-Meter is, fundamentally, that it is a substanceless gimmick.  It doesn’t add anything to the dialogue to mark it as “half true” versus “mostly false” versus “mostly true,” but it does provide ammunition for pundits and those looking to make a case on distorting the truth.  It does serve to obscure the actual nuance of the debate, rather than helping people be informed so that they can make informed decisions.

In the essay Politifact is Bad For You they state:

Politifact is dangerous. Stop reading it. Stop reading the “four Pinocchios” guy too. Stop using some huckster company’s stupid little phrases or codes or number systems when it’s convenient, and read the actual arguments instead.

The argument being not that there shouldn’t be analysis and fact checking, but that the gimmick itself is interfering with honest dialogue, saying explicitly that: “since it calls itself Politifact and assigns ratings that you can just glance over, it undeservedly becomes a irresistible cudgel to use against your political opponents.”  The problem is not the fact checking, its the gimmick. 

Demonstrating a remarkable lack of self-reflection, Politifact’s Bill Adair characterized this as:

It’s dangerous to put independently researched information in the hands of the citizenry?

Except that it’s clear from context that the problem isn’t the fact check, it’s the gimmick. Them characterizing it this way would have earned at the best a “half true” by their own ratings tool.  Yet it’s clear that they–for whatever reason–think that any attack on the Truth-O-Meter™ is actually an attack on their fact checking and against independent fact checking in general. They are, in short, reading their own press releases.

So while I firmly support the idea that fact checking shouldn’t be a separate column but should be an integrated part of the media proper (something that The New York Times was recently contemplating), I also like what independent fact checkers can do.  But that’s with their analysis and their legwork, not their talking points, and not their gimmicks.

Our goal at PolitiFact is to use the Truth-O-Meter to show the relative accuracy of a political claim. In this case, we rated it Mostly True because we felt that while the number was short of a majority, it was still a plurality. 40 percent of Americans consider themselves conservative, 35 percent moderate and 21 percent liberal. It wasn’t quite a majority, but was close.
PolitiFact chief Bill Adair • Responding to some aggressive criticism from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, over PolititFact’s rating of Marco Rubio’s claim that “a majority of Americans are conservatives.” The polling used by PolitiFact to score the claim proved that, in fact, only 40% of Americans self-identify as conservative — not a majority. However, they rated his claim “mostly true,” the stated justification being “conservatives are the largest ideological group, but they don’t cross the 50 percent threshold.” PolitiFact has been the subject of some derision lately, with the spotlight turned on them after their controversial 2011 “Lie Of The Year” selection, about which Bill Adair authored a rather prickly, underwhelming defense. Earlier this week, they got some criticism over debunking a claim from an episode of “Glee.” Frankly, PolitiFact’s ratings have always brought with them a measure of subjectivity, as you might find with any media arbiter; it’s their own lofty title that makes this an issue. Majorities aren’t pluralities. For a fact-checker, that’s just a dictionary search away. source (viafollow)
beffyjo:


Dear Mitt (can I call you Mitt?) - 
Absolutely no election should be about “defeating” the current president. Elections should be about who will be the best at taking care of our country. If you’re only running to get Obama out of office, you have some severely skewed priorities. 
This election is not a game, it’s our future. 

beffyjo:

Dear Mitt (can I call you Mitt?) - 

Absolutely no election should be about “defeating” the current president. Elections should be about who will be the best at taking care of our country. If you’re only running to get Obama out of office, you have some severely skewed priorities. 

This election is not a game, it’s our future. 

A few points on effective activism:
1) PCIP isn’t a reworded SOPA.  This doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly ugly, but how it works, what it does, and why you should oppose it are fundamentally different.  You can see the full text on GovTrack.  Everything is not ”a reworded SOPA” (I’ve now heard at least three bills referred to in that way, none of which were).  Even if you believe it will cause similar effects, unless it does it in the same way it is not a “rebranded SOPA.”
2) It is not new, it was reported by committee on 28 June 2011. It was placed on the calendar on 16 December 2011, when it looked much more like SOPA was going to pass.
3) The title of the bill is “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act” (not what is listed in the image) and you can reference it as H.R. 1981.  The Senate bill is S. 1308, which is still in committee.  Please, when referring to bills, refer to them by their actual name and their actual bill numbers, not subtle variations of their name and without their keywords, they make them very difficult to find out about and it means you are less likely to be listened to when you contact your congressional representative.
 Now, all of that having been said, please do oppose this bill.  There are good reasons to oppose it (see also).  Contact your congressional representative and let them know what you think, because in the United States, politics is not a spectator sport. 
But when you talk to others about it, please get the basic facts about it right and provide methods for basic activism (the link above will go to POPVOX and enable you to write a letter on this specific bill).  Not getting the name right or not providing the bill numbers make the bill harder to find and makes it less likely your Congressional representatives will know what you are talking about. Making everything “the next SOPA” is sensationalizing and desensitizing and makes rational discourse about the bills more difficult, it also hurts your case when with potential supporters when it turns out that it works in a very different way than SOPA/PIPA did.
So please act: Contact your congressional representatives. But take the time to get your facts straight, it makes your case stronger. 
(Note, image originally linked  to FunnyJunk.  I have redirected it to POPVOX, where you can contact your Congressional representative).

A few points on effective activism:

1) PCIP isn’t a reworded SOPA.  This doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly ugly, but how it works, what it does, and why you should oppose it are fundamentally different.  You can see the full text on GovTrack.  Everything is not ”a reworded SOPA” (I’ve now heard at least three bills referred to in that way, none of which were).  Even if you believe it will cause similar effects, unless it does it in the same way it is not a “rebranded SOPA.”

2) It is not new, it was reported by committee on 28 June 2011. It was placed on the calendar on 16 December 2011, when it looked much more like SOPA was going to pass.

3) The title of the bill is “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act” (not what is listed in the image) and you can reference it as H.R. 1981.  The Senate bill is S. 1308, which is still in committee.  Please, when referring to bills, refer to them by their actual name and their actual bill numbers, not subtle variations of their name and without their keywords, they make them very difficult to find out about and it means you are less likely to be listened to when you contact your congressional representative.

 Now, all of that having been said, please do oppose this bill.  There are good reasons to oppose it (see also).  Contact your congressional representative and let them know what you think, because in the United States, politics is not a spectator sport. 

But when you talk to others about it, please get the basic facts about it right and provide methods for basic activism (the link above will go to POPVOX and enable you to write a letter on this specific bill).  Not getting the name right or not providing the bill numbers make the bill harder to find and makes it less likely your Congressional representatives will know what you are talking about. Making everything “the next SOPA” is sensationalizing and desensitizing and makes rational discourse about the bills more difficult, it also hurts your case when with potential supporters when it turns out that it works in a very different way than SOPA/PIPA did.

So please act: Contact your congressional representatives. But take the time to get your facts straight, it makes your case stronger. 

(Note, image originally linked  to FunnyJunk.  I have redirected it to POPVOX, where you can contact your Congressional representative).

Gender Identity Disorder is a neurological and psychological condition that impairs functioning, but for which there are recognized treatments (SRS, hormones, counseling, etc).  Those treatments, properly applied, can improve functioning.
Let’s be clear: This doesn’t mean it is their fault. It doesn’t mean that it is their choice. It doesn’t mean that the goal of treatments should be to make them fit their birth-assigned sex.  It just means that we have effective treatments that they will seek that will improve their functioning in society, and the current standard of care in the United States is to help the person with GID transition if it is their desire to do.  
The entire reason that there was a fight to get GID recognized in the first place was so that it would be eligible for effective treatments. So that these treatments would not be viewed as “purely cosmetic” but something that actually helps improve functioning.  This process is far, far from perfect and there is certainly room for improvement, but simply dropping it from the DSM or ICD is not the way to go about doing so.
The problem isn’t the “pathologisation of transgender people,” the problem is the stigmatization of mental illnessby society, by legal programs, and even by medical systems.Let’s work to remove that stigma throughout society, so that people who have things that impact their lives–whatever they may be–can get effective help and not feel ashamed or stigmatized for doing so.

Gender Identity Disorder is a neurological and psychological condition that impairs functioning, but for which there are recognized treatments (SRS, hormones, counseling, etc).  Those treatments, properly applied, can improve functioning.

Let’s be clear: This doesn’t mean it is their fault. It doesn’t mean that it is their choice. It doesn’t mean that the goal of treatments should be to make them fit their birth-assigned sex.  It just means that we have effective treatments that they will seek that will improve their functioning in society, and the current standard of care in the United States is to help the person with GID transition if it is their desire to do.  

The entire reason that there was a fight to get GID recognized in the first place was so that it would be eligible for effective treatments. So that these treatments would not be viewed as “purely cosmetic” but something that actually helps improve functioning.  This process is far, far from perfect and there is certainly room for improvement, but simply dropping it from the DSM or ICD is not the way to go about doing so.

The problem isn’t the “pathologisation of transgender people,” the problem is the stigmatization of mental illnessby society, by legal programs, and even by medical systems.Let’s work to remove that stigma throughout society, so that people who have things that impact their lives–whatever they may be–can get effective help and not feel ashamed or stigmatized for doing so.

beakandtalon:

This is an absolutely fascinating study.

My Objections to the Obamameter

My respect for the so-called “fact-checking” organization Politifact has been going progressively downhill over the past few years.   This is not new, and it did not start with their selection of a “lie of a year” that was not actually a lie.  It started before that, as I’ve seen several increasingly problematic trends in their fact checking.

Before I begin, let me note that I am not criticizing independent fact-checking.  Politifact has a history of claiming that people who are criticizing their methodology are actually criticizing independent fact checking, but this is in no way what I am doing here.  I am, rather, criticizing their specific approach to the matter.   Which, for the moment, I am going to focus on their promise rating system.

Let’s take the Obamameter. I like the idea… in principle.  I like the idea of holding a politician accountable for what they said that they would do. At the same time, call me a partisan hack, but I distinguish between the following:

  • Someone who deliberately acts against a promise.
  • Someone who compromises on a promise–either leading to a partial completion or no completion at all–in order to achieve something else.
  • Someone who does not act on a promise.
  • Someone who tries to act on a promise, but is stopped by others.
  • Someone who does not act on a promise within a certain (and possibly arbitrary) period of time, but may in the future.

Politifact does not distinguish between these and rates “blocked by Congress” and “actively worked against it” both as “promise broken.”  Despite that, from the standpoint of someone who is actually interested in these things for supporting a candidate, the former changes my approach versus the latter.

The challenge here–which is central to my objections to politifact–is not in their analysis, it’s their gimmick.  By rating it–sensationally–as “promise broken” there are implications that go well past merely their analysis of “failed to accomplish it in the first term (but may still in a second) because of forces outside of his control (historical obstruction in Congress).”  By making it sensationalist and putting a graph on it, they tempt people (in some ways with a large, gleaming neon sign) to draw conclusions that are not reasonable to draw from their data.  Or even which their own data does not directly support.