Quora, Felix Ling and Media Bias/Fact Check

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Somebody at the question-and-answer website Quora asked whether the website “Media Bias/Fact Check” counts as trustworthy. A number of the answers to that question conveyed our view of that site, that the subjectivity of its methodology basically makes it a category error to gauge its trustworthiness.

Quoran Felix Ling, on the other hand, considered it a key point that nobody suggested a superior alternative to MB/FC.

We commented on Ling’s answer, trying to explain his category error and along the way explaining various reasons we have for placing very little trust in MB/FC. Eventually Ling blocked our further comments at Quora. But Ling registered a comment at Zebra Fact Check and we issued a reply to his final Quora comment at this site.

It turned out that on May 14, 2021, a day before our reply at Zebra Fact Check, Ling updated his answer about MB/FC with his subjective impressions of Zebra Fact Check.

This post addresses that part of Ling’s Quora answer.

Bryan W. White, the creator of Zebra Fact Check (ZFC), is critical of MB/FC based on their methodology, although he, too, has also declined to cite a media ratings resource that he thought was better.

  1. It’s true that I base most of my criticism of MB/FC on its subjective methodology. Ling omits my mentions of MB/FC’s history of erroneous reporting.
  2. Note that Ling continues to crow that his challenge remains unmet. What subjective rating site is better than MB/FC? As though we can objectively grade some subjective judgments higher than others.

From what I see at his site, ZFC does not even attempt to have a balanced story selection and instead appears to mostly cite White’s complaints about PolitiFact from the right (indeed, another project of White’s is PolitiFact Bias).

Zebra Fact Check does not attempt balanced story selection (we’ve explained why and maybe Ling missed it), and lately the site has focused on complaints about PolitiFact made directly to PolitiFact and subsequently to the International Fact-Checking Network as a test of the latter’s ability to hold its signatory organizations accountable.

Ling’s description of Zebra Fact Check and his mention of PolitiFact Bias jibes with his fallacious ad hominem attacks from his comments below his Quora answer.

Although his site argues about the importance of diverse teams (or “polarized” as he calls it), I think it strains credulity that a diverse team could have signed off on this story selection.

Zebra Fact Check has never claimed it has established any kind of diverse team, and there is no contradiction in advocating the use of polarized teams to improve fact-checking coming from one person who is not part of a diverse team. We supposed Ling’s strained credulity was intended to message his audience that Zebra Fact Check should not be trusted because of the would-be contradiction.

In fact, Zebra Fact Check has argued that selection bias evaporates as a concern where fact-checking focuses on claims instead of the people making the claims, particularly in markets served by multiple fact-checkers with varied political leanings. The overriding concern in fact-checking must always be the accuracy and fairness of the fact check.

Judging from the posted comments at his criticism of MB/FC, it seems evident to me what effect his efforts are having on the polarization threatening this country.

Judging from the material Ling linked, we’d be totally impressed if anybody could use specifics from either one or both to make Ling’s argument coherent. To us, this looks like one of those phantom arguments. The links are intended to convey the impression that logic supports the author’s opinion.

I agree that fact-checking can and should be improved, but it would seem to me that the primary impact of his approach would be to make Republicans even more distrustful of the entire fact-checking endeavor than they already are.

What is my approach and why would it have the effect Ling anticipates? The reader is left to guess. Ling may hope for readers whose minds are already made up, for that saves the work of offering a persuasive argument. We would suggest that it is not our approach to the fact-checking endeavor that discourages trust in that endeavor. It is the mainstream fact checkers’ lack of transparency and failure to act according to principle that (rightly) erodes trust in fact-checking.

But I encourage you to look at his site and his below comments (disclosure, I blocked Bryan when it became clear he wasn’t listening).

Those who are curious may find Ling’s answer and the associated comments by following the Quora link near the beginning of this post. Needless to say, I disagree with Ling’s summary. Ling ought to concede the absurdity of regarding subjective opinions as trustworthy. And it’s worth pointing out that Dave Van Zandt, the creator of MB/FC offered comment on Quora essentially affirming that view:

(W)e disclaim openly and frequently that our ratings are ultimately subjective as bias cannot possibly be accurately and objectively measured.

Van Zandt did add the self-stultifying observation that MB/FC is “popular is because most people identify with our ratings as they are close to accurate in most cases.” But we can at least credit him with recognizing the fundamental subjectivity of his enterprise.

Judge for yourself whether you think White has a more objective and nonpartisan stance than myself, and whether I was unfair to observe that he seemed to have “an axe to grind against Politifact.”

Ling didn’t merely “observe that he seemed to have ‘an axe to grind against Politifact.'” We have a reason-based (non personal) focus on PolitiFact. That fits one definition of “axe to grind” but fails to meet the most common definitions. Ling uses ambiguity in the continued attempt to fuel a fallacious ad hominem attack.

Our focus on PolitiFact does not justify dismissing our work as biased.

Ling can’t seem to quit the ad hominem attacks.

If Media Bias/Fact Check showed greater trustworthiness than a bias rating site with objectively trustworthy ratings, that would count in its favor as an evidence of trustworthiness. Extolling MB/FC as the most trustworthy of bias rating sites without any of them having an objective record of trustworthiness counts as no evidence at all.

We encourage Ling to heed that point.

2 Comments

  1. Dave N

    Ling’s “challenge” is meaningless anyway (other than fodder for his subjective opinion of the suggestions). Finding (or knowing of) a better site does not change in the slightest whether or not MB/FC can be considered trustworthy, which is the whole point of the original question.

    Reply
    1. Bryan W. White (Post author)

      Exactly.

      We called Ling’s answer a category error early in the post and hammered the point home at the end of the next-to-last paragraph: “Extolling MB/FC as the most trustworthy of bias rating sites without any of them having an objective record of trustworthiness counts as no evidence at all.”

      Reply

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