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Fake factoids, false narratives

A persistent source of frustration in politics is the citation of misleading statistics and shoddy research studies to reinforce dubious ideological narratives. Those doing the citing either know what they're doing and are therefore dishonest, or don't know and are therefore staggeringly dumb (or at least easily fooled and poorly read).

Among the myths (or at best, half-truths) that continue to stagger about like zombies on The Walking Dead.

• That 97 percent of "climate scientists" support the theory of man-made global warming.

Actually, we don't know what the real percentage is and probably don't have a methodologically sound way of finding out (for that matter, and crucial to the debate, we don't yet have a reliable methodology for measuring global temperatures or estimating past or future ones, either).

The 97 percent claim stems from questionable interpretation of the results of a two-question survey conducted by a University of Illinois graduate student and her adviser back in 2009. The sample size used in the survey was tiny, the number of those who responded only a small minority of that small sample, and the number among those respondents who had actually done any kind of research on climate smaller still (thus a minority of a minority of a minority).

Despite its shaky provenance, the 97 percent claim has been invoked as a form of appeal to authority to silence global warming skeptics ever since.

• That our banking system suffers from "institutional racism" because blacks are refused loans more frequently than whites.

This claim can be traced to the influence of a shoddy 1992 study conducted by researchers for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which concluded that black applicants with comparable incomes were turned down for mortgage loans far more often than white applicants.

Alas, what that Boston Fed study inexplicably failed to do was take into account factors other than income--debt levels, credit ratings, and size of loan requests, in particular--which banks necessarily consider and which, when factored in, effectively explained the discrepancies. Indeed, by the 1992 Fed study logic, banks routinely discriminate in favor of Asians against whites.

But the damage was still done when, after overly credulous media reporting of the Fed's study, Bill Clinton's administration put pressure on banks to further loosen mortgage lending policies, particularly to minorities.

The housing bubble and the 2008 financial crisis followed in train.

• That one in five female college students has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

This shocking (if true) claim started the whole "campus rape epidemic" frenzy, but dates to a widely debunked 2007 survey of women at just two universities who were awarded a $10 Amazon gift certificate in return for answering a few sloppily phrased questions online.

There isn't a sexual assault crisis on our campuses, and it can be made to look like there is only if we play fast and loose with the definition of sexual assault and jigger the statistics accordingly (as that 2007 survey did).

• That women only earn 78 percent of the wages of men, and therefore continue to be victims of pervasive sexism in the workplace.

In reality, the male-female earnings gap has been shown to almost entirely disappear once you compare men and women doing the same work, in the same professions, with comparable work experience and educational credentials, which the 78 percent statistic doesn't reflect.

But why let facts get in the way of all those fun women's marches and strikes?

• That our nation's police are racist because they fatally shoot young black males at a higher rate than other groups.

The fact that young black males are fatally shot by police at disproportionate rates ceases to alarm (or, actually, alarms in a completely different way) when you take into account that young black males also commit a staggeringly higher percentage of our nation's violent crimes, with their victims usually other young black males.

• That there is no "Ferguson effect" because violent-crime rates are lower today than they were in the 1990s.

Violent-crime rates are indeed lower, after a hard-achieved but persistent decline over the past two decades.

But the most recent data also suggests that that decline has been reversed since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014--murder rates rose by 11 percent in 2015 according to FBI data and by another 13 percent in 2016, according to the respected Brennan Center (the 2016 FBI data has yet to be released). That amounts to a staggering 25 percent increase in murders in just two years.

Those who claim there is no "Ferguson effect" deliberately mislead by comparing 2015 or 2016 crime rates to those in the early 1990s (when violent crime rates were reaching an historic peak), rather than from just three years ago, precisely those years during which the effects of Ferguson would have become noticeable.

But when you demonize the police and make their work more difficult, what reasonable person would expect otherwise?

Such "big lies" depend upon repetition and gullibility and a complicit mass media to work. And there are always demagogues with ideological agendas propelling them.

------------v------------

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 03/20/2017

Comments

RBear says...

Gitz, I thought this would be an easy column to pick apart and it is. Let's start with your first claim about climate scientists consensus. Doing a little research finds a more recent study in IOP Science which lists the data from which the results were derived. The point is that 97.1% of publishing climatologists support man-made global warming. That was also published at NASA (and surprisingly still remains on the site despite threats to silence the experts by the Trump administration. (Source: "Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming," IOP Science. April 2016.
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Regarding the college rape study, a 2015 survey published by the Association of American Universities cited a similar statistic, showing private universities with a higher rate (25.3%) compared with public universities (22.8%). The methodology is much more detailed than your Amazon gift card methodology. (Source: "Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct," Association of American Universities. Sept, 2015.
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These are but a few of the mistakes you made in this column. I'll look into the rest later, but it's pretty evident you're cherrypicking numbers from what seems to be very dated sources. I've used sources that are current within the last two or three years. How about actually doing research. After all, you're the academic, not me.

Posted 20 March 2017, 7:48 a.m. Suggest removal

BoudinMan says...

Here are other false narratives for you, BG: Trump received more electoral college votes than any other president since Reagan; there were over 2 million people at Trump's inauguration; it was raining on inauguration day, but when Trump started speaking the rain stopped; between 2 and 3 million illegal immigrants voted in the last election; Trumpcare will cover everybody with cheaper and better healthcare, and on and on.

Posted 20 March 2017, 8:18 a.m. Suggest removal

Lifelonglearner says...

Another uncomfortable fact for you; the Civil War was fought to protect the property rights, wealth, and businesses of the slave owners. The property was human beings who provided cheap labor.

Posted 20 March 2017, 9:31 a.m. Suggest removal

3WorldState1 says...

How is this guy still writing for a NewsPaper? Are there any business or journalistic ethics or standards at this paper? Well, it is an opinion piece so...OK.
Go back and read your opening paragraph. GOP voters verbatim. For instance: Why would a normal thinking person believe a politician that has been paid by the oil companies? It goes against everything the "against Gov." people believe.
On climate change. Let's say you're a welder. And you have been welding for for 40 years. A master at your craft. And some group comes in saying that you have no idea what you are talking about (and mind you, the group saying this is being paid money from another group trying to push this narrative). Who would the American people believe? The Welders Assoc of America? The Welders Union League (making these groups up) all the welders that have been practicing their craft? Or some paid off politician?
I'm just amazed at how gullible some are. This Gitz guy being one of them.
And I'm a big car guy. Love the smell and sound of big motors. But I also have a brain and can read. They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Posted 20 March 2017, 9:40 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

Gitz, digging further into your flawed and often inaccurate analysis, you come to a few other whoppers. Let's look at your "Ferguson Effect" conclusion. You attempt to lay the blame on the victims rather than the victimizers. In reality, the reports on the "Ferguson Effect" point to the fact that of the top 10 cities with the highest number of violent crimes, the poverty rate is higher than normal and the unemployment rate is 6% or greater. Interestingly, Little Rock is in that mix but seems to be an anomaly on the poverty and unemployment rates. Regardless, you seem to follow on Rosenfeld's position of the "Ferguson Effect," but for the wrong reasons. In fact, the Brennan Center, which you cite, attributes it to deterioration of urban areas, a fact that correlates with poverty and unemployment rates.
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With regards to racism in lending, there have been several studies in recent years that showed the correlation between racial components and lending practices, including one in Baltimore, a city with a 2-1 black/white ratio, that had twice as many whites granted loans than blacks. Several other studies have been cited in a simple Google search.
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I don't know if you are just Google challenged, but it seems all your references are from outdated sources to try to prove your weak points. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the D-G is not getting their money's worth out of you when looking for a reputable columnist. I'm beginning to wonder if you've finally reached your peak in terms of analytical reasoning.

Posted 20 March 2017, 11:45 a.m. Suggest removal

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