Commentary

Can fact checkers keep the ACA debate honest?

A skeptical treatment of Nyhan and Reifler’s latest study Readers should be aware I’ve referred to Brendan Nyhan as a “truth-hustler” in earlier writings. The team of Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler created yet another stir recently with their latest study of media effects, “The Effects of Fact Checking Threat.”  Brendan Nyhan holds a post at Dartmouth College as assistant…
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Making sense of the claims about climate change consensus

Last week, we published a fact check of a new Organizing For Action campaign designed to expose Republican “climate change deniers” in Congress.  One of the features of OFA’s attack ad was its claim of a 97 percent consensus among scientists on climate change. We noticed a few problems with the support typically offered with that and similar claims, and…
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One “Pinocchio” is not enough

On July 19, 2013 the Washington Post Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, published a fact check of President Obama’s claim that the ACA’s medical loss ratio rules saved consumers $3.4 billion. That interested us, for we fact checked a version of the same claim coming from Consumer Reports.  Finding other fact checkers investigating similar claims provides an opportunity to see how…
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PolitiFact’s artful dodger, editor Bill Adair

A May 28 press release announcing a new study of PolitiFact pushed the issue of selection bias in fact checking to the political front burner this week.  The response from PolitiFact’s founder and editor, Bill Adair, provides a perfect avenue for highlighting some of the worst aspects of that fact check operation. The study, from the Center for Media and…
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Social Security, deficits and the fact checkers

On April 10 we published a fact check of a House Democrat presentation of Social Security, claiming that Social Security has never added so much as a dime to the deficit.  We found the claim false based on the Social Security Administration’s reports of revenue falling short of expenses. We’ve since surveyed the way various mainstream fact checkers treated similar…
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The Atlantic: “It’s not the rating that matters.”

The Atlantic recently published a column about fact checking by Alesh Houdek.  Houdek asks a question and by the end he gives us an answer.  The answer reveals the key problem with modern fact checking, though Houdek apparently doesn’t completely see it. The question (from the story’s deck):   Seen from the right angle with the right squint, the claim…
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George Washington and the Second Amendment: Unsettling the question with expert opinions

While fact checking claims PolitiFact Texas made in its fact check of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) I ran into the problem of experts giving contradictory opinions. Gohmert answered a journalist’s question about the justification for citizens having arms similar to those used by law enforcement.  Gohmert said his reason was the same as the one that George Washington had for…
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John McManus’ ‘SMELL test’

Veteran journalism critic John McManus came forth with a good article on evaluating online information sources, published online by PBS. “Don’t Be Fooled: Use the SMELL Test To Separate Fact from Fiction Online” encourages readers to test claims with a process that follows the SMELL acronym:   Introducing the SMELL test S stands for Source. Who is providing the information?…
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Brooks Jackson and firefighting

Brooks Jackson, the founder of Annenberg Fact Check, published a review in December of his past nine years at FactCheck.org.  Titled “Firefighters, Fact-Checking and American Journalism,” the review focuses largely on the role of the fact checker. Jackson deserves credit for steering what is and has been the best fact-checking organization.  But his defense of mainstream fact checking does much…
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Experts and agendas

Journalists who fact check tend to rely on experts. It makes sense.  Journalists possess limited pools of knowledge, and that knowledge is mostly of a general character.  Journalists know something about quite a few things rather than having a great deal of knowledge about one specific thing. Therein lies the dilemma for the fact checking journalist.  Which expert is right…
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