Posts Tagged ‘facts’

This is not how statistics work

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

This was the weirdest (but maybe cleverest) line from Paul Ryan’s debate with Joe Biden:

“Do you know what the unemployment rate is in Scranton? […] It’s 10%. You know what it was when you guys came into office? 8.5% That’s how it’s going all around America.”

What a clearly intentionally misleading statement. That statement was aimed directly at, uh, underinformed people. Why not just pick one person who is unemployed and claim that the rate is 100%? We have real statistics for this data: unemployment has been declining and is ~7.8%.

This is really the bottom of the barrel for lying with statistics. I get frustrated when people say that statistics can be used for lies, therefore they don’t trust them. Yes, statistics can mislead, but it takes an uninformed/uninterested/uneducated listener to make that misdirection really work. (I don’t mean formal education, just lacking an ability to interpret statistics, understand things like correlation vs. causation, etc.)

This post has been edited to make it slightly less condescending. These things make me cranky.


Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Consistency in the opinions of politicians over time is something that is over-valued in American politics. Being labeled a flip-flopper is certainly a bad thing. However, it’s important to note that there are different reasons to change one’s opinions and they can range from extraordinarily honest to cynically opportunistic. For example, if you learn new things or have new life experiences, it’s reasonable to change your opinion about things. Those of you who have known me for a while have seen me do this on a whole host of issues. With that said, changing an opinion on something important out of pure political opportunism is bad, and changing your message dramatically when speaking to different audiences is worse.

Mitt Romney is doing a lot of the second type of this. He has had that reputation for a long time now (for example, on abortion), but it really showed during the first debate. Romney went from being a self-described “severe conservative” to acting like a moderate very abruptly. Steering towards the middle in the general election is normal, but Romney did it by flat-out lying about his platform. These aren’t misrepresentations or exaggerations or gray areas, they are lies. One example that stuck out is his unambiguous claim that “preexisting conditions are covered under my plan”. CNN followed up with the Romney campaign on this issue after the debate:

When pressed whether Romney would require states to include a pre-existing conditions stipulation in their legislation, Fehrnstrom answered: “We will give the state initiatives and money so that they can manage these decisions on their own. But, of course, we’d like them to see them continue that pre-existing band for those who have continuous coverage.”

Saying “we’d like states to do it” is not the same as being “part of my plan”, by any stretch of the imagination. Also, it’s not clear to me how you’d cover preexisting conditions without an individual mandate (i.e. why buy health insurance when you’re healthy if you can just wait until you’re sick?).

The sad part is, there are a lot of low-information voters who will hear Romney say this and will have no reason to question him.

Here are some more:



Sunday, July 31st, 2011

From The Pain

There’s a writeup with the comic, too, which is worth reading. From it:

I know a lot of people will raise the objection that the space program is a pretty frivolous and costly enterprise; shouldn’t we be spending that money on health care/education/poverty, etc.? To these well-meaning people, who do make a valid point, I would respectfully submit that you please go take a flying leap off a low-gravity planetoid. We weren’t ever going to spend that money on health care/education/poverty, etc. because no one in power in this country actually cares about those things. And as long as we’re not going to spend it on that stuff, why not spend it on science? So what if manned space exploration is frivolous? It’s harmless and beautiful and inspiring. It contributes to human knowledge and elevates our estimation of our own species. At least it’s not lethal. The Department of Defense, on which we blow a fifth of our Federal budget, is a gigantic and inefficient engine designed to kill people. So how come we always hear this argument made against the space program instead of the military? It’s like picking a fight with the class geek instead of the class bully. As my instructive chart shows, we’ve blown like three times more accomplishing it’s not clear exactly what in Afghanistan than we spent putting men on the Moon. I am not even counting Iraq, for the cost of which we could probably build a floating pleasure-dome on Io. So how about knock it off with the why-are-we-spending-this-money-on-space horseshit already and do something useful with your pipsqueak pious outrage instead?


And since I looked it up, according to wikipedia: “The final cost of project Apollo was reported to Congress as $25.4 billion in 1973″

Budget knowledge

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

From a CNN poll:

Americans estimate that foreign aid takes up 10 percent of the federal budget, and one in five think it represents about 30 percent of the money the government spends. But the actual figure is closer to one percent. […] The public estimates that the government spent five percent of its budget last year on public television and radio. […] The real answer is about one-tenth of one percent.

This is hardly news, unfortunately.

The most important areas: Defenese, medicare/medicaid and social security are all about 20% each.

By the way, if PBS got 5% of the US budget, that would be over 170 billion dollars. That could buy a nice set for Charlie Rose!

San Francisco: The City of Smells

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Some people have contested my claim that San Francisco is widely known as “The City Of Smells”. I’m not claiming that San Francisco is the only city to sport a distinctive set of scents, much like Paris is not the only city with lights… same idea. I have assembled some photographic evidence of this fact.

Caption: A cloud of a smell envelops downtown San Francisco

Caption: Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom addresses a crowd of supporters: “If there’s one thing San Francisco is known as, it is The City of Smells.” Newsom continued, “It has been the policy of my administration to preserve and enhance the wide variety of smells that permeate this city, so that they may continue to be enjoyed by all San Franciscans today and for years to come.”

Caption: One of San Francisco’s many hills. The hills were built in the 1970s in order to separate different “scent zones” of the city, giving it the name “The City of Smells”.

Caption: The fire following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake converted many flavors into the smells that San Franciscans take for granted today.

Thanks for reading. I now consider this matter closed.

Fox News geography

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Miss South Carolina must be interning in their graphics department:

(via media matters)

How Not To Make a Chart, Episode 302

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

From CBS News:

It still amazes me that people whose job it is to visualize data would abuse the y axis like that, making it look like the debt had tripled. Nobody can comprehend trillions of dollars, so I think in this case the relative change is far more important than the raw numbers. I’m not trying to minimize the importance of the debt, of course.

I went to the trouble of repairing the chart for them:

Recession Stats

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The Atlantic made a bunch of recession statistic graphics that are worth a look. Most interesting/surprising to me? The average minutes spent reading per weekend day for 15-to-19-year-olds went from 16 to 5 from 2007 to 2009.

Stephen Fry on Elitism

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

“When I was growing up ‘elitism’ was a word sneered from the lips of the Left, now it is sneered from the lips of the Right. The sneering was ugly then and it is ugly now. Knowledge, science, understanding, literacy and curiosity are absolute goods and to hell with anyone who tries to follow that American habit here and attempts to construct a discourse in which only a despised liberal elite are interested in science, the arts, history and ideas. Such wickedness reminds one of those who opposed Education For All at the end of the nineteenth century. All knowledge should be free and available and all people should be encouraged to acquire it. It will not necessarily lead to liberalism, but it will lead to understanding and a desire for openness and decent, non-tribalist exchanges of the kind that can only enrich our democracy.”


Lie of the Year

Monday, December 21st, 2009

The Saint Petersburg Times’ picked its Lie of the Year, and the distinction goes to retired government employee Sarah Palin, for “death panels”:

Her assertion — that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care — spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings. Opponents of health care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink. Still others scratched their heads and said, “Death panels? Really?”

I can’t think of a more influential but demonstrably false statement from this year, can you?