Fact Checking Ann Coulter

I've encountered a lot of scholarship errors in books (and elsewhere) and learned to watch out for false claims. Even if a book gives a lot of footnotes, it can easily still be wrong. I often check the sources for claims, rather than trusting footnotes, and I've caught problems. I've written about the bad scholarship of the Cato Institute, the Ayn Rand Institute, the New York Times, Thomas Sowell, Robert Zubrin, Alex Epstein, Steven Mosher, Isaac Kramnick, Fred Pearce, Matthew Connelly, Robert McGee, and Ari Armstrong.

I didn't have to look for scholarship errors to find any of those. I just read things normally and investigated issues that stood out to me. With Coulter, I did the same thing when reading her books. I investigated several of her claims. The difference is, with everyone else I found an error within the first few issues I investigated. With Coulter, I never found an error, so I decided she was a good scholar.

But Coulter's weekly column rarely gives sources for its many factual claims. I find that uncomfortable. I was concerned I was being too trusting by reading her column and generally believing its facts. Plus, I disagree with Coulter on some important issues (like psychiatry). When you have substantial disagreements with someone, that indicates you think about the world in some different ways, so it's good to tread carefully. Perhaps she treats factual accuracy differently than I do (I know many people take it less seriously than me). So I decided to fact check Ann Coulter more thoroughly.

To be objective, I used a random method. I'd already tried checking things that stood out to me. This time I investigated 10 random footnotes from her books. For each one, I picked a book, then I selected a chapter with a random number generator, then I went to the footnotes for that chapter and selected one with a random number generator. Whatever was randomly chosen, I committed to investigate it and reach a conclusion, even if it was hard; reselecting any footnotes would compromise objectivity.

This is not a perfect approach. If 1% of Coulter's footnotes are mistaken, I could miss it. Maybe she approaches her columns with a different respect for scholarship than the books I'm checking (why?). Maybe she has mistakes with no footnote. If I missed something, please tell me (with specifics!). Leave a comment below or email me [email protected]

In my experience, I often find scholarship errors within the first three things I check for an author. Because errors are so common, I think a spot check like this is valuable. If you doubt how common errors are, I recommend you fact check some other authors. Plus, I've already read Coulter's books and checked a few claims I found suspicious, so adding random checking provides good variety and objectivity. And, while reading, I already had the opportunity to spot claims in her books that should have a footnote but don't, or notice other issues.

I checked 10 randomly selected footnotes from 5 Ann Coulter books. For each one, I present my analysis below and I score Coulter's scholarship from 0 to 5 points. Her final average score was 5, which is perfect. (I decided on the scoring system before I started.) I found no scholarship errors. Well done!

In addition to fact checking Coulter myself, I also reviewed other people's criticism and fact checking of Coulter. Click through for details; in summary, their own scholarship was terrible. Also, my friend fact checked one random Coulter cite I gave him, which was correct.

Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America

Cite: Chapter 12: 29. Lynn Sweet, “Dems Seek Strategy Against ‘Birthers,’ ” Chicago Sun-Times, August 5, 2009.
The Democratic National Committee called the Tea Party movement “rabid right-wing extremists” and “angry mobs.”29
(Yellow quotes are from Coulter's books, teal quotes are from her sources, red indicates other quotes.)

Here, Coulter has given two quotes. I found the article here. It has the text Coulter quoted:
The Obama-controlled Democratic National Committee is portraying its foes as on the political fringe, accusing "Republicans and their allied groups" of "inciting angry mobs," calling them "a small number of rabid right wing extremists."
The only difference is Coulter added a hyphen in "right-wing". I think that's a reasonable English style change, not a misquote.

The article's source is the author personally speaking with Democratic Senator Dick Durban and providing quotes. Good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 25. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 170–71.
Reminiscent of France’s “Cult of Reason,” the Nazis planned to replace Christianity with the “Reich Church,” based on a 30-point plan drawn up by Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg. Crosses were to be stripped from churches, cathedrals, and chapels and replaced by the swastika. Bibles, crucifixes, and saints would be forbidden from the altars, which would instead display a copy of Mein Kampf and a sword.25 (If they had thought of it, they might have put Christ in a jar of urine.)
I got the book. Page 170 says:
Rosenberg was an "outspoken pagan" who, during the war, developed a thirty-point program for the "National Reich Church."
Five of the thirty points are given in the book on page 171. Coulter gets everything right:
18. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German nation and therefore God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.

30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels ... and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.
But what about this book's source? I was worried for a second because there's no footnotes. But it does have endnotes with sources, they just go by page number and brief quotes rather than by footnote number. There are five reasonable-looking sources given for pages 170-171.

And if you search for this material on Google you get lots of hits with these points, some of which give more sources. For example:
(The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, p. 240 in some editions, p. 332 in others. Chapter headed "Triumph and Consolidation", subsection "The Persecution of the Christian Churches")
He even checked the page numbers for different editions! That Shirer book is actually one of Bonhoeffer's sources. Let's see if there are any Amazon reviews criticizing Shirer's scholarship. There are 16 1 star reviews out of 930 reviews. Looking through them:
This review is not of the excellent scholarly work of William Shirer but of the Kindle version of this book
The serious flaw in this book is the extremely poor editing by the publisher [for the Kindle version]
The book is excellent..a classic. There is a problem with the new audiobook service and the Kindle Fire HD.
Lots of 1 star reviews are either about problems with the e-book or the audio book. One guy wants to defend Nietzsche from charges of anti-semitism, but I didn't find his comments persuasive. Someone says Shirer's book is outdated and there is new information available, but doesn't point out specific mistakes. Someone even says:
The simple fact is if I want an anti Nazi soapbox filled with opinion and no facts, I will read a political blog or something along those lines.
Shirer's book is anti-Nazi? Fine with me. These Amazon reviews look like what you would expect for an accurate book that offends a few people. I'm giving Coulter full credit.

Score: 5/5

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton

Cite: Chapter 4: 9 John M. Broder, “Testing of a President: The Investigation,” New York Times, March 7, 1998.
Jordan told the grand jury that he personally gave the president regular progress reports on his efforts to get Lewinsky a job. He partially confirmed Clinton’s statement that Betty Currie was the one who referred Lewinsky to him. Yet he also explained that he assumed the referral was made at the president’s request.9
Here's the article.
Mr. Clinton, in his deposition, acknowledged talking to Mr. Jordan about finding a job for Ms. Lewinsky. And Mr. Jordan has told his lawyers and the grand jury that he personally kept the President up to date on his job search efforts.

...

Mr. Jordan has said that it was Mrs. Currie who referred Ms. Lewinsky to him. But his attorney, William G. Hundley, said this week that Mr. Jordan assumed that Mrs. Currie was acting at the President's behest.
The footnote does have the material for all three of Coulter's sentences, and she presented it accurately. A problem I've seen before is a section of text makes multiple claims and then gives a footnote for one of the claims. Then the other claims have no source. But Coulter did it right.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 12: 6 Investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on “Filegate” in 1996, discovered this.
This was not the sort of thing that tended to promote the appearance of innocent bungling. In addition, a six-month gap in the log used to sign out the sensitive files from the White House Security Office was never explained. One page of the looseleaf log ends on March 29, 1994, and the next page picks up again with September 21, 1994.6
I'm not very happy with this cite because it doesn't give any source to look up. But there is information online:
(e) Secret Service entry logs indicate Craig Livingstone's access to the White House residence when he had no logical reason for being there, other than perhaps to share FBI files with its occupants. Indeed, a "check out" log of FBI files from his office shows a six (6) month "gap" -- from March 29, 1994 to September 21, 1994 -- where there are no entries, reminiscent of the eighteen (18) minute gap in the Nixon tapes during Watergate. See Secret Service Entry Logs, attached as Exhibit 9.
Looks like Coulter had it right. I'm still not happy about the lack of a source I could directly check, but I'm hesitant to subtract any points when she was factually correct. To resolve this, I searched for newspaper articles from the time. If it was common knowledge, then I'll give her full credit.

LA Times:
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the gap troubling and asked former White House aide D. Craig Livingstone to explain missing entries in the log between March 29, 1994, and Sept. 21, 1994.

...

"There was a period of time evidently that the log wasn't kept," Livingstone testified.
Well, OK, Livingstone admitted it himself, in Senate testimony, and it was in a major newspaper. And it's not that hard to find, even 18 years later.

Score: 5/5

Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama

Cite: Chapter 14: 62. Mark Hosenball, “The Death-Threat Debate,” Newsweek, October 27, 2008. Available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/10/18/t...
The Obama campaign responded to Newsweek’s inquiries about the candidate’s lie by saying that even if the report wasn’t true, “what is true is that the tone of the rhetoric at McCain–Palin campaign events has gotten out of hand.”62
I like cites with URLs! Coulter's quote exactly matches the webpage. The source is, "An Obama campaign spokesman told NEWSWEEK". Looks good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 18. Mark Mooney, “Obama Aide Concedes ‘Dollar Bill’ Remark Referred to His Race,” ABC News, August 1, 2008. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Politics/story?id=549534...
Maybe he’d be the first Hawaiian on a dollar bill. Apparently, there were limits to the press’s credulity and eventually, the Obama campaign admitted that, yes, the dollar bill line was about race.18
Another URL, and another correct cite. Easy one.
But Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged on "Good Morning America" Friday that the candidate was referring, at least in part, to his ethnic background.

When pressed to explain the comment, Axelrod told "GMA" it meant, "He's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American."
Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 4: 33. Jim Dwyer, “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids,” (New York) Newsday, January 8, 1992.
The only definitive proof that the paint attacks were hoaxes was that the police, the mayor and the New York Times suddenly dropped the subject, never mentioning the white-paint attacks again. Needless to say, there would be no investigation into whether the alleged victims had wasted police resources by falsely reporting a crime.

The shoe-polish hate crime had made the front page of the New York Times and the cover of New York Newsday in massive in-depth interviews with the “victims.” The Times’s story, titled “Victim of Bias Attack, 14, Wrestles with His Anger,” was 1,228 words long.32 Newsday’s account, written by the most easily fooled journalist in America, Jim Dwyer, clocked in at 1,016 words and was titled “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids.”33 The racist attack was talked about in France, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, on the MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour, in endless stories on National Public Radio and still today, in Anna Quindlen’s living room.
I quoted a lot in this case to make the context and issue clear. This article is tough to find. The only thing Google found was from Coulter's book. Archive.org found nothing. Newsday's website search is broken. Searching for the author "Dwyer" brings up a bunch of sports articles that give an error when clicked on. Jim Dwyer may have won a Pulitzer Prize while at Newsday, but their link to his articles is broken.

But I eventually managed to find it. Coulter's cite is correct except for two punctuation changes. The version I found online has the apostrophe moved to the wrong place and has quotes around the dialog from the mother:
Race Victims' Mom: `I Wanted A Better Life For My Kids'
I don't see a meaningful problem. And the visible text of the article fits what Coulter was talking about.

Score: 5/5

Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right

Cite: Chapter 2: 3. Editorial, Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 14, 2002.
The California Coastal Commission was forced to intervene to demand that the Hollywood left stop blocking access to the beach. Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club, expressed shock at the arrogance of what he called "some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu."3
The issue here is the Hoye quote. Although the Las Vegas Review-Journal deleted the article from their website, the Internet Archive still has a copy:
"Some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu turned their backs on me over this issue," said Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club and now a champion of open beaches, to the Los Angeles Times.
I think their source is this L.A. Times article. Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 8: 12. Jo Mannies, "Bradley Touts New Book, Ideologies; Public Trust Tops Priorities in New Appeal," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1996, p. 1C.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Bradley's run-of-the-mill, tax-and-spend liberalism as "his cerebral approach to politics."12
The article is behind a paywall. I paid.
His personal disclosures, in the book and in interviews, are a departure for Bradley, a private man known for his prowess in basketball and his cerebral approach to politics.
Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism

Cite: Chapter 6: 78. Lawrence Van Gelder, "Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer," New York Times, October 25, 1995; William Glaberson, "F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild," New York Times.
The New York Times has variously referred to the Guild as "a nation-wide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights" and "a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes."78
These articles were easy to find and the quotes are correct. Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer:
Mr. Cammer was also a founder and active member of the National Lawyers Guild, a nationwide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights, as well as a volunteer lawyer in the civil rights movement in the South in the 1960's.
F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild:
The Guild, a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes, was tarred for years with charges that it was a "Communist front" organization.
Ann added a hyphen in "nation-wide". That's fine. Otherwise the quotes are exact.

Score: 5/5

Congratulations to Ann Coulter for her perfect score. It's great – and too rare – to see high quality scholarship.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing Ann Coulter's Critics

In this post, I review criticisms and fact checks of Ann Coulter. Teal quotes are Coulter, yellow quotes are from critics, red is other stuff.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements...
"No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare."
lol. I remember reading that. This site considers that "pants on fire" lying, and says:
Our experts say: "outrageous," "ridiculous," "ludicrous"
They are appealing to the authority of people who suck at reading comprehension. Sigh. It wasn't meant at a factual-literal statement. This criticism is stupid. They try to defend it:
We are sure the claim wasn't intended as a joke, because it's included in a bullet-point list of straightforward criticisms of the law.
I don't think these people are familiar with Coulter's style. Also on that list was
-- Merely to be eligible for millions of dollars in grants from the federal government under Obamacare, programs are required to meet racial, ethnic, gender, linguistic and sexual orientation quotas. (That's going to make health care MUCH better!)
Using sarcasm isn't what I consider a list of "straightforward criticisms" which couldn't include a joke. Ann (who is not alone in this) has often mixed serious points and humor. Just assuming she wasn't joking about this isn't a reasonable way to interpret her.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/12/12/lie-of-...

in a "lie of the year" contest, Coulter is given a runner up award because:
Conservative author Ann Coulter’s claim that “no doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare.” It received the “pants on fire” rating, the most extreme type of lie by PolitiFact’s rating.
Same issue again. I'm including this because I just clicked everything I saw on Google, I wanted to be thorough. Coulter was not making a literal-factual claim. she was making a correct point about how Obamacare screws up market incentives. BTW she explained in a column how she herself couldn't get any medical care she valued above $0 from any obamacare plan, so the half-joking quote doesn't even seem like much of an exaggeration.

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/20...
Coulter said Fox News broke the story of George W. Bush’s 1976 drunk driving arrest. In terms of being the first to broadcast the story, that is correct.

...

We rate Coulter’s statement Half True.
So Coulter was correct, but they rate it "Half True". I don't get it. (They make some excuses about Fox News only broadcasting it first, but one of Fox's affiliates having done the research.)

http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/when-philosophy-m...

This guy complains that Coulter dislikes Ezekiel Emanuel. Emanuel is an Obama health care advisor and a would-be philosopher. What is wrong with Coulter's position? He says Emanuel has been misunderstood and links to http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/deadly-doctor/ Unfortunately the Youtube video with Coulter's comments is no longer available and he only quoted Coulter as saying, "Zeke Emanuel is on my death list."
McCaughey, a former New York lieutenant governor, claimed that Ezekiel Emanuel advocated that "medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens.’ "
What did Emanuel actually say?
Emanuel, Hastings Center Report, 1996: Communitarians endorse civic republicanism and a growing number of liberals endorse some version of deliberative democracy. … This civic republican or deliberative democratic conception of the good provides both procedural and substantive insights for developing a just allocation of health care resources. … Substantively, it suggests services that promote the continuation of the polity – those that ensure healthy future generations, ensure development of practical reasoning skills, and ensure full and active participation by citizens in public deliberations – are to be socially guaranteed as basic. Conversely, services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia. A less obvious example is guaranteeing neuropsychological services to ensure children with learning disabilities can read and learn to reason.
Sounds awful. For those who missed the meaning, he basically wants the government authorities to be in charge of healthcare and decide who gets what by deciding which healthcare services are "basic" (government provided at taxpayer expense) or not. So like, death panels. Emanuel's defense is:
Emanuel conceded that the article is "pretty abstract" and may be difficult to follow for those who are not academics, but he said that one should not then "take two sentences out of context."

"This is clearly not written in my own voice," he said. "I am not advocating this."

We’ll leave it to you to determine the merits of Emanuel’s philosophical observations. But the context makes it clear that Emanuel is describing the implications of a particular philosophical trend, not offering a policy prescription.
So his defense is that he was just writing about bad stuff, not advocating it? And also he's smarter than us, so we shouldn't try to use our own judgment. I'm not sold. Oh and the link to the report doesn't actually work. And I don't trust this site because it screws up the next issue really badly:
McCaughey also pushes the idea that Emanuel would want to ration care for seniors by quoting from a January 2009 article that Emanuel coauthored in The Lancet journal. Here, McCaughey says, he "explicitly defends discrimination against older patients."

What Emanuel and his two coauthors were actually writing about was how to decide which patients are to receive organ transplants, vaccines or other "very scarce medical interventions" when there are not enough to go around. The three authors advocated favoring younger patients over older patients as part of a "complete lives" decision-making system aimed at saving the most years of life using the available resources. Age would be only one factor, however. Also weighing in the "complete lives" system would be such factors as a patient’s likelihood of full recovery (prognosis) and the use of a lottery when deciding between two "roughly equal" patients.

The authors disputed the idea that this system discriminates against older people in the way that favoring one race or one sex over another would discriminate. "Treating 65-year-olds differently because of stereotypes or falsehoods would be ageist; treating them differently because they have already had more life-years is not." The authors stated that the complete lives system "empowers us to decide fairly whom to save when genuine scarcity makes saving everyone impossible."
So it's not OK to accuse him of explicitly discriminating against older patients because he has the excuse that he's doing it rationally instead of due to bigotry? Umm. No. Discrimination for any reason is discrimination. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, but it does make it discrimination. He did explicitly advocate treating old people differently due to their age. And, no, also considering other factors does not change that. If I discriminate against homosexuals unless they're white, thus considering multiple factors, that does not make it stop being discrimination.

If you want to do credible fact checking you can't attack factually accurate statements like this. I'm done with this guy.

Despite this guy being dumb, I found another copy of the report he brought up anyway, and took a look. It begins:

http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/Where_Civic_Republicanism...
Is there a relationship between defects in our medical ethics and the reason the United States has repeatedly failed to enact universal health coverage?
This is politics disguised as academics. Read it if you can stomach it. He's a power-hungry statist authoritarian.

Oh and I found a copy of the video of what Coulter said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/13/ann-coult...

She was joking. Here's the quote:
"Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel."
The assholes at factcheck.org didn't bother mentioning that Coulter was making a joke about personally being on Obama death panels, prefaced with "Totally ironically".

Again, factcheck.org quoted "Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel." as "Zeke Emanuel is on my death list."

I guess misquoting was the only way they could come up with to attack Coulter.

http://www.anncoulter.blogspot.com

This site does not have permalinks for some stupid reason. Anyway in a section called "The Lies" we read:
Regarding the War On Terror, on page 5 and 6, Coulter makes the accusations that “[i]n lieu of a military response against terrorists abroad and security precautions at home, liberals wanted to get the whole thing over with and just throw conservatives in jail” and “[l]iberals hate America, they hate ‘flag-wavers,’ they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam (post 9/11). Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.”
Coulter having different political opinions than you does not make her a liar.
Two of the sources Coulter uses to arrive at these scurrilous conclusions are New York Times columns by Frank Rich and Bruce Ackerman. On page 5, Coulter writes, “New York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that [Attorney General] Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.”

REALITY: I checked the column Coulter cited and found that nowhere in the column does Rich even remotely suggest that Ashcroft curtail efforts against Islamic terrorists. In fact, I checked every post-9/11 Times column by Rich and found that Rich has not made any such demands of Ashcroft. This is one of Coulter’s lies that I e-mailed to Alan Colmes who interviewed Coulter last night (6/25/02) on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes show. Colmes confronted Coulter with this. Coulter’s response: “that is an accurate paraphrase...” (For a transcript of Coulter and Colmes’s exchange, check the addendum at the bottom of this post).
ok let's see the addendum
Addendum: Partial transcript of Hannity & Colmes, June 25, 2002. Interview with Ann Coulter

Colmes : [ Quoting from Slander, pg. 5] ‘New York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that [Attorney General] Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.’ You referred to a particular column that Frank Rich wrote. He never said that in the column. He never said that Ashcroft should stop monkeying around. I can’t show you what he didn’t say because he didn’t say it. It wasn’t in the column.

Coulter: Yes, he did. I mean, I do know what the column says. No, I wasn’t quoting him precisely—

Colmes: I read it today.

Coulter: That is an accurate paraphrase—unlike his quotes of me, I might add, which are, I can show you how they are deceptive. But, no, he was specifically saying, here just so the viewers don’t have to go to the trouble of looking it up. He was specifically complaining that Ashcroft was not meeting with the head of Planned Parenthood when he was purporting to investigate terrorism. That is true and you can’t deny it.

Colmes: That’s not what you said—

[Hannity interrupts and begins to interview Coulter]
ok and what's the article say? "Planned Parenthood, which has been on the front lines of anthrax scares for years and has by grim necessity marshaled the medical and security expertise to combat them, has sought a meeting with the attorney general since he took office but has never been granted one."

so, Coulter was right? what's the problem? the article was complaining that Ashcroft didn't meet with planned parenthood when he was supposed to be dealing with terrorism. the article also said, "A close friend of George W. Bush, [Mr. Ridge] should have been in the administration from the get-go, and was widely rumored to be a candidate for various jobs, including the vice presidency. But after being pilloried by the right because he supports abortion rights, he got zilch. Instead of Mr. Ridge, the administration signed on the pro-life John Ashcroft". so the article really did focus on the abortion issue. and for those who don't know, Ashcroft was busy working on stuff like the patriot act. his resignation letter stated, "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

These people seem to consider anything an error if they don't like it and it involves any interpretation they disagree with. They ought to learn the difference between false factual statements and disagreeable (to them) opinion statements.

moving on to another website by the same guy

http://godlessanncoulter.blogspot.com
Now that it's been thoroughly established that Coulter engaged in plagiarism, not only in the book Godless but for her syndicated column
the link to the plagiarism info doesn't work. (there was also a second link but it went to a blog mainpage with no mention of plagiarism to be found)
I can only speculate but here's my hypothesis: Coulter is a mendacious and venal cynic who has no heart. As an educated person, she hardly believes her own bullshit
OK I guess this guy is just a political opponent of Coulter's who isn't doing objective analysis. done with him. let's google for plagiarism though, that sounds interesting.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/07/07/225305/-A...

i laughed out loud when i saw Daily Kos defending Ann Coulter from the plagiarism charges. the Kos article says all Coulter did is use some arguments she didn't come up with herself, which it considers "lazy" but recognizes isn't plagiarism. so it's like when I use arguments that Ayn Rand thought of – does studying Objectivism make me lazy? Kos links to details but the link doesn't work.

http://newsbusters.org/node/6307

the plagiarism accusation was made using software plagiarism checking. this kind of thing needs manual checking. also apparently the accuser didn't release his detailed evidence initially. An executive at Coulter's book publisher said, "The number of words used by our author in these snippets is so minimal that there is no requirement for attribution."

things get more fun as Coulter herself addresses the issue. Coulter says:

http://www.newshounds.us/2006/07/12/ann_coulter_re...
You can't plagiarize the name 'George Bush.'
See? Fun issue. I laughed. and even more fun:
And if I'm plagiarizing I want to know who's saying all those awful thing about the Jersey Girls. Liberals can't really get it straight. Either I'm writing vile horrible books or I'm not writing vile horrible books.
lol
...[E]ven liberal lunatic Daily Kos says it's not plagiarism.
lol, similar to my reaction (except the "lunatic" psychiatry part).

discussing libel, Coulter says she won't sue, she's a public figure, people can and do say whatever they want about her. then:
Cavuto, interrupting:

Do you find that a touch ironic? You've blasted public figures all your life. They turn around and blast you and you can't do a lick about it.

Coulter:

I don't lie about them. I mean, we ought to have the same libel law, and I've always believed this, that Britain does and that is pure truth or falsity. Fine, put a cap on damages. Have a pure truth or falsity here but that is not what libel law is. You can say anything about a public figure.
Truth or falsity sounds like a good criterion for libel to me.

And, indeed, Ann does not lie about the people she criticizes. I've fact checked her, plus I did this big post you're reading right now. i've looked through her stuff and what her critics say. (let me spoil the ending for you: her critics are incompetent).

ok let's get back to wading through the less fun stuff.

http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030630.html
Misleading quotation and sourcing of claims

Coulter engages in a series of deceptive practices in quoting people and sourcing her claims. Most commonly, she distorts the authorship of articles she's citing. Throughout the book, she attributes outside book reviews, magazine profiles and op-eds to media outlets as if they were staff-written news reports, feeding the perception of bias on the part of these institutions. These include a New York Times Week in Review article by historian Richard Gid Powers cited as "According to the Times..." (p. 6); a Washington Post book review by Patricia Aufderheide described as "the Washington Post said..." (p. 97) and "The Washington Post called..." (p. 98); and a New York Times Magazine article by reporter Leslie Gelb cited as "the New York Times reported..." (p. 171). At one point, she cites a single Washington Post magazine article by journalist Orville Schell four separate ways (implying multiple stories to the casual reader), in one case calling it "a two-part, four-billion-column-inch Washington Post story" in which "the Post said..." (p. 92).
if you want the exact details of a cite, look it up. if someone is lazy, that is their own fault, not Coulter's. you can't expect Coulter to provide every detail about something you might be interested in, upfront. people who don't check cites are going to make mistakes no matter what Coulter does.

and why doesn't Spinsanity, so concerned about cites, give us links to the articles it's talking about?

in general, organizations are responsible for what they publish, so I don't see what's wrong with referring to it that way. Unless it's something like a letter to the editor.

when something like the Times' Week in Review or Magazine shares the website (same domain) and logo (their name in that iconic font) with the Times, they are choosing not to be a clearly separate entity. they should clearly separate their own stuff before demanding Coulter add words to her book about the separation.
Coulter also repeatedly cites quotations out of context from the original source material, implying that reporters reached conclusions that were actually presented by sources quoted in the piece. In one particularly dishonest case, she claims that the New York Times "reminded readers that Reagan was a 'cowboy, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat'" after the invasion of Grenada (p. 179). However, the "cowboy" quote is actually from a Reagan administration official quoted in a Week in Review story who said, ''I suppose our biggest minus from the operation is that there now is a resurgence of the caricature of Ronald Reagan, the cowboy, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat.''
Bringing something up (which the NYT did) does remind people about it. ok two strikes and we'll move on to the next article by the same website.

http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20020713.html
Yet if readers can leave aside all of these problems (admittedly not an easy task), Coulter is actually driving at something important about the state of political debate in the media. She's right, for example, that left-leaning politicians and editorial pages sometimes mount sophisticated and unfair rhetorical campaigns against their political enemies. The example she chooses -- attacks against former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his policies -- is exactly on point. She also chooses other examples to good effect, such as Rep. Charlie Rangel's equation of Gingrich's policies with those of Nazi Germany. Absurdly, though, she steadfastly refuses to admit that conservatives can be guilty of exactly the same thing -- an asymmetry so glaring that only the most partisan readers can accept it at face value.
Coulter is certainly not shy about criticizing conservatives. Anyway, what problems? apparently she wrote "sweeping judgements":
"Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do."
"[T]he left is itching to silence conservatives once and for all."
"[I]f Americans knew what they [liberals] really believed, the public would boil them in oil."
""Principle is nothing to liberals. Winning is everything."
So basically the "problems" are Coulter's political ideas.
Another problem plaguing Slander is the deceptive way Coulter uses footnotes to lend a false sense of legitimacy to questionable points. To take one example, in her discussion of media treatment of former Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., she provides a list of 10 quotes alternating between positive coverage prior to his political demise following allegations of sexual harassment, and negative coverage afterward. Coulter introduces the list with the claim that "What happened to Packwood is a stunning example of the media's power both to destroy and protect ... In the case of Packwood, the media's good dog/bad dog descriptions were applied to the exact same human being."

To the casual reader, the list must seem fairly damning. Yet if one flips to the back of the book and checks her sources, it turns out that her claim about "the media" rests on a very small sample. Rather than the 10 different articles the casual reader would assume Coulter is quoting, she relies on one article for four of the five negative quotes, a second for three of the five positive quotes, and a third for the other two positive quotes. In all, the list comes down to four articles -- thin evidence at best for the broad suggestion that coverage of Packwood proves "[t]here is no intellectual honesty whatsoever in media descriptions of politicians," which she makes two paragraphs later.
OK let me check the book. Coulter writes, "There are literally hundreds of news items using these words in connection with Bob Packwood." What words? "Maverick", "gadfly", "courage" and "political savvy". so why is spinsanity claiming Coulter cherrypicked a couple quotes and misled people about there being more, when she actually explicitly said there were hundreds? Why didn't they quote and investigate the much bigger claim?

I think because it's not an issue they can win, and they are scum. Google for "Bob Packwood" and each of the 4 terms. I got 10k hits for maverick, 6k hits for gadfly, 30k hits for courage, and 300 hits for "political savvy". they aren't all news items, but at a glance i can see some are. there's far more news sources for this than the four articles spinsanity dishonestly pretends is the whole story after dishonestly selectively quoting Coulter.

http://mediamatters.org/research/2009/01/07/coulte...

these guys are mad that Coulter described liberals defending evil with the word "praise". Coulter answered the issue, saying in part, "among the praise for the perpetrators of the hoax hate crime was a statement by the president of Duke in a baccalaureate address reprinted in the Duke magazine". the media matters folks screwed up the link Coulter provided, but i managed to find the article

https://web.archive.org/web/20030513015105/http://...
At your opening convocation in August 1997, I spoke on the theme of freedom -- the kind of freedom you might expect at Duke, and my advice on how to use it wisely. I also told you about some of the things you would need to grapple with, freely and responsibly, during your Duke years. One of those predictions was that race would surely matter in your lives. During your first semester, students hung a black doll in effigy on the quad to protest what they saw as our inhospitable environment for African Americans.
The issue is the black doll in effigy. Media Matters thinks this distorted picture of events (no mention that it was hung by a noose by lying scumbags) isn't praise because it was just saying race was relevant when it whitewashed a very nasty hoax. Media Matters refusing to understand what this kind of statement means does not make Coulter a poor scholar.

Next up, a little variety. I ran into a fact check of an attack on Coulter's scholarship. Read it if you want: http://lyingliar.com/?p=46

Moving on, this is amusing:

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ann_Coulter
If you can find every single problem with American society and put them into one person, it's [Ann Coulter].
That's from "Rational Wiki". I'm not seeing how opening with this kind of hateful flaming is a rational approach. They don't bother trying to present a serious critical case against Coulter or fact checking her. Mostly they quote a bunch of things she said without comment, as if "rational" thinking means assuming your political views are too obvious to need explaining.

http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/2005/07/why-ann-cou...
Why Ann Coulter Is a Cunt, Part 1856 - The Plagiarism Edition
You might have expected left-wing Coulter haters to be more sensitive to feminist issues, gender respect, or that kind of stuff. If you did, you were wrong. The left likes to lie about having such values far more than it wants to bother having them. And I already covered the plagiarism issue earlier.

also, speaking of obamacare, some people are mad about this:

http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/doug-graham.html

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/20...

first of all, dying from obamacare is different than dying of cancer. umm, sure, i know. also there's a blue shield issue.
But the claim that someone "died from Obamacare" because Blue Shield "completely just pulled out of California" is something we can fact-check.
ok and they do check it:
Like other insurers across California and the country, Blue Shield of California could no longer offer some health insurance plans because they did not include "essential health benefits" required by the Affordable Care Act.

These plans could not be grandfathered in under the new law. Blue Shield of California sent letters to 119,000 customers in September notifying them their current plans would end "but we can still have you covered in 2014." PunditFact obtained a sample cancellation letter from the company.
Sounds complaint-worthy to me.
The letters went to 57 percent of the insurer’s individual market customers, she said. For two-thirds of the people who lost their plan, the recommended option was more expensive, the Los Angeles Times reported.
hmm. since the complaints don't provide enough details about the Blue Shield, let's look up what their organization is like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Shield_of_Califo...
In 2006, Blue Shield agreed to a $6.5 million settlement relating to its alleged modifying of the risk tier structure of its individual and family health care plans. In 2008, the organization agreed to a settlement with the California Department of Managed Health Care to resolve allegations of improper rescission of individual health plan coverage. Blue Shield agreed to pay $3 million as a penalty. The organization reinstated coverage to 450 members whose plans had been cancelled and agreed to provide compensation for any medical debts incurred by these policyholders due to the rescission.
wikipedia's source link may be dead, but you can still find the source here: https://web.archive.org/web/20080721053636/http://...
Two of California's biggest health insurers have agreed to collectively pay $13 million and reinstate more than 2,000 insurance policies to settle claims with the state that they illegally dropped policyholders from coverage.
so Blue Shield has a history of illegally dropping people's insurance. given that history, i think critics need to present a little research about the current events before we should trust Blue Shield.

But politifact basically says no one lost their insurance (but lots of people had their rates raised. but they all had spare money to pay higher rates?) so, ok, at this point do i know what happened? no not really. do Coulter's critics know what happened? i don't think so. if they do, why couldn't they write more convincing material with detailed factual information with good sources? and all this is because maybe Coulter exaggerated a bit when speaking on TV, not in writing? at worst she said Blue Shield pulled out of California over Obamacare when actually they just changed a bunch of stuff around and made things worse for more than a hundred thousand people? if this vague stuff is the best criticism of Coulter that anyone has, i'm not impressed.

finally there's this book, Soulless: Ann Coulter and the Right-Wing Church of Hate by Susan Estrich. ok i can respect that parody title, but let's see what it says. (In these quotes, bolding names of speakers in interviews and italics are from the book, bolding other stuff is my emphasis.)

It says if you want to see all of Coulter's errors documented, go to www.mediamatters.org [p10] but i'd already been there above, and i don't see anything about Coulter on their homepage, and when I do a search on the site for "Ann Coulter" it doesn't come up with some organized documentation of her errors as promised. This book is from 2006, but it's Estrich's own fault for linking a homepage and pretending it was a source of something specific.

Estrich isn't big on specifics:
[Coulter] makes you so angry sometimes that you become a mirror of her. That is her power. That's why people throw pies and nitpick footnotes. [p11]
When I fact checked Coulter footnotes, was I nitpicking? Was it because I hate Coulter? No. Scholarship matters! Well to me at least, not to Estrich.

Estrich is an angry person. It's a pattern:
I had to erase everything I wrote here, I got so mad. Better write nothing, my mother would have said. What can you say to hate? [p9]
And that's just in the first 11 pages. I tried to look for more anger in the index, but there isn't an index.

Estrich's book isn't about fact checking Coulter. It's about arguing with principles. That would be OK but the method is awful:
Social scientists argue, using polling data, that there is no culture war. Ann needs to create one in order to destroy the possibility that a decent progressive majority might triumph over the forces of hate. [p6]
The book has footnotes, but not for that factual claim about polling data. And note the appeal to the authority of "scientists" as an arguing method.

But the important thing is Estrich thinks there's no disagreement, no debate, Coulter is just inventing one. If Coulter would just shut up and stop spreading divisive hate, then America could be a calm, progressive (left-wing) country. Estrich wants to win by a method other than winning the debate.

"progressive" really does mean left-wing to Estrich, btw
[Coulter] asks: What does liberalism believe? (We're supposed to call ourselves progressives, by the way; it polls much better.) [p12]
now back to denying there are significant political disagreements:
What's clear to everyone except Ann is that the president [George W. Bush] has failed. The war in Iraq has failed. [p6]
Estrich claims everyone except Coulter agrees with "decent progressive" politics like that George W. Bush and the Iraq war were failures.

Coulter recognizes that people disagree and argues her case, strongly. I respect that.

Estrich denies that people disagree (except a few extremists like Coulter). Then instead of arguing for her political views, Estrich writes a book attacking an extremist for not having the "decent progressive" views Estrich is sure all the Americans who count would agree with her about.

You think Estrich doesn't really mean it? That she isn't trying to smooth over political debate so everyone can just agree with her? That she isn't trying to be the reasonable moderate most Americans already agree with, to Coulter's divisive extremism?
You look at every poll and what you find is a decent, moderate, tolerant nation, being torn apart by the divisive, polarizing, mean-spirited politics of a selfish few. You find that on the fundamental issues that are supposed to be tearing us apart, we're far more united than you think, and we're being divided for sport. [p2]
Estrich tries to frame things so everyone already agrees with her and there's no need to debate. Instead of debate, she'll just flame Coulter and anyone else who disagrees as a tiny mean-spirited divisive minority. Polarizing people and being divisive is bad – Estrich claims – unless you're attacking people like Coulter (or, I suppose, me).

Coulter is the intellectual here who argues her points. Estrich is the venom-spewing hater. Ironically Estrich keeps talking about Coulter with phrases like "venom [p5]", "rants [p6]", "forces of hate [p6]", "polarizing [p6]", "trades on hate for the fun of it [p2]", "mean-spirited [p2]", "selfish [p2]". Other than that last one, they all apply to Estrich more than to Coulter. (I'm not sure if Estrich has a self. If you don't understand this comment but want to, read The Fountainhead.)

Look at this attack:
... Ann uses God as a gimmick. [...] She admits this. ... [p7]
This is a flame which Estrich doesn't argue. It's just the sort of wordplay Coulter is frequently accused of doing (but actually Coulter has integrity and standards. She does something kind of similar but better). Coulter did not and would not admit to using God as a "gimmick". Coulter would never say that in her own words or agree with it, and didn't. Estrich has no evidence or argument to the contrary. But Estrich is twisting Coulter's position and paraphrasing to create something mean. Then the big problem comes when Estrich attributes her twist to Coulter. If Estrich wants to claim Coulter uses God as a gimmick, whatever, but claiming that Coulter agrees is over the line.

Bigger picture, Estrich hasn't written a serious fact-checking book and wouldn't claim she did. ("What's wrong with Ann, in my judgment, is not that she is sloppier than anybody else in the political world, but that she's meaner... [p11]").

Estrich has written a book of political rhetoric, but her methods begin by claiming she doesn't need to argue her point. She just assumes her reader already agrees with her, and if not then he must be a tiny minority of non-decent non-progressive people like Coulter. Because of this method, I don't have much to say about the book.

I disagree. If you (Estrich) want a rational debate, I'm open to that. Coulter and I accept that you disagree with us and are willing to argue about politics. When you are willing to analyze the issues instead of putting all your effort into saying that's unnecessary, get back to me.

You doubt Estrich means it this way? "... And why drop the last line, if not to fool us progressives? [p13]", "Since we think the Earth is actually precious, we have to protect it. [p13]", "She is turning us into cartoons [p14]". It's all about "the rest of us [p11]" against "Ann". And immediately preceding this assumption that all of her readers agree with her, Estrich accuses Coulter of "talking to her base [p13]".

So we're pretty much done here. I just wanted to show you one more thing about the book.
[From an interview] Lauer: Do you believe everything in this book—do you believe everything in the book, or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?

[Estrich commenting] She really does believe them. This is the amazing but true part. Scary, but true.

Coulter: No, of course I believe everything. [p62]
When I saw this I thought maybe I could respect something about Estrich. Estrich admits Coulter means what she says. Except it turned out it was just a tactic to call Coulter "scary". A little later Estrich contradicts herself:
[This is another interview, and the question is whether the 9/11 widows would give up their celebrity, notoriety and money to have their husbands back. Colmes and Shwartz think it's obvious that the widows would make that trade. Coulter isn't sure and says:]

Coulter: I don't know. I can't read into their hearts. But it isn't as obvious to me as it apparently is to you.

[Estrich comments] How can you say this, Ann? How can anyone say it? Even if it's just for effect, how can you say it? [p76]
Part of Colmes' reply is "You've got to be kidding me. [p76]".

But it's not just for effect, Coulter is not kidding, she believes it. And I for one agree with her about the 9/11 widows.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coal and Progress are Good

In part 1, we discussed "He said, she said" reporting. In part 2, we did a little philosophical analysis. We asked, "Will burning less coal in power plants save lives?" The key issue for government regulation of coal power is whether it's within the government's proper purpose of protecting people. Read the previous parts first. This is the conclusion.

Coal has fans and haters. Electricity has proponents and opponents. Progress in general can be divisive. Some people see potential, others see new dangers. Some see improvement, others see disruption. The potential, new dangers, improvement and disruption all exist. Many people reply that we have to compromise. But we don't.

Burning less coal not only won't protect people, it would hurt people. It's a huge mistake for the government to push for it.

Philosophy is important here because it's the field which addresses fundamental issues like progress and compromise. Compromise and limiting progress are popular bad philosophy. Those mistakes make it hard to clearly see the value of coal. Bad philosophy helps enable mistakes for specific issues like industrial progress, abortion, emotions, dating and parenting.

Coal is mistakenly seen as a compromise with substantial negatives because everyone expects and seeks out compromises. A compromise is an outcome where some problem wasn't solved; it's a partial solution. People think that's the best you can do. Better philosophy explains how genuine full solutions to life's problems can be possible and should be sought. (If you are interested in more about full solutions, look over my archives or ask here.)

Progress (including industrial and scientific progress) is not a compromise. Progress looks like a compromise because it brings with it new dangers. But people have misunderstood the human condition.

The human condition is one of infinite problems. This is a good thing. It means there is infinite improvement possible, life can always be better. Whenever you make life better, it raises new problems – new opportunities. There is no way to avoid problems. If you do nothing, you will die. If humanity tries to live a "sustainable" lifestyle indefinitely, everyone will die. A meteor or plague may come, or something else. The only defense against the unknown potential problems of the future, like new diseases, is progress. The more progress we make, the more we can increase our general purpose problem solving power, giving us a chance against new problems.

Progress brings new problems, but they were coming anyway. Since that isn't avoidable by any means, it isn't a downside. And it doesn't make life bad, it's part of a good active life.

In broad outline, coal electricity, like other progress, brings massive benefits and some new problems. It has transformed life for the better. If you selectively look at the dangers it has brought (e.g. radioactivity in the smoke created), those may seem scary, and coal can look like a compromise. But if you look in a more broad way, instead of selectively, you can see the massive dangers coal solves (like working yourself to death with manual labor), as well as that new dangers are a part of life whether we use coal or not (so coal isn't really to blame).

Examining specifics, electricity makes life better with features like electric lights, computers, phones, stoves, refrigerators and motors. Electric lights give you more usable time, effectively extending your life. Computers automate tasks, saving time and effectively extending human lives. Phones enable friendships that would otherwise be impossible, making life better. Stoves make cooking safer by not having to burn wood or dung (comparing to coal plants, remember smoke is a lot worse when it's right next to you). Refrigerators reduce food poisoning. Electric motors help with transportation and factories. Factories allow mass production, which allows you to have products cheaply (meaning you work fewer hours, effectively extending your life) which help make your life better – example products include medicines, safe portable foods, tools that let you work more effectively, and luxuries that people value.

The massive benefit to human life is a theme of progress, and should be kept in mind as the main issue. People are too eager to dismissively say, "Sure there are benefits, but why not do it in moderation? Let's look at the downsides." Selectively focusing on the downsides of progress, while glossing over the upsides of progress and the downsides of non-progress, results in a biased non-objective understanding of reality.

People are worried the oceans might rise. Some lowland areas may flood. So what? That's way better than dying of cholera like people did before industrial progress. If it were a compromise, it'd be a great deal. But why compromise? Thanks to having an industrial civilization, we are powerful enough to solve problems like increasing temperatures or rising ocean levels. We can build walls, fans, or air conditioning. We can put mirrors in space or moisture in the atmosphere to reflect light. We have a lot of options.

The problems from industrial progress are speculative potential problems. It wasn't long ago that we were warned about global cooling due to industrial progress. But even if they are right, an industrial civilization is so much more able to solve arbitrary problems than a non-industrial civilization. Problems are always a concern, and technologies like coal power plants give us much better ways to solve them, including ways unthinkable to a pre-industrial civilization.

By attacking coal power, the Obama administration is making a huge mistake. Rather than protect people, it's endangering the future. Rather than try to solve the problems associated with coal, Obama wants to avoid them. But there is no such thing as a problem-free technology. Coal alternatives have plenty of problems too.

When should we switch? When other technologies work better. The government, which ruined the cleanest power industry – nuclear – needs to stop micromanaging. People will buy stuff with no coal involved on their own when it's the best option for their lives. Instead, taxpayers work to better their lives and the government takes a cut and uses it to subsidize technologies that can't stand on their own, because the Obama administration thinks its smarter than the rest of us. Obama wants to control people rather than protect people.

(This post has some ideas inspired by the book The Beginning of Infinity. I recommend reading it.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Cato Institute

Cato tweeted a graph from their Human Progress project:



This graph is dishonest lying with statistics in several ways.

On the left, the numbers go from 200 to 800. These are millions of chinese people living in some definition of poverty. What happened to 0? They designed the graph so the change goes from above the top to bellow the bottom. A more accurate graph would show numbers from 0 up to China's population size (now around 1.35 billion). Cato cut off around 40% of the numbers on the left to make the graph look bigger, and leaving out 0 is a well known dirty trick.

On the right, it's even worse. The right side shows some kind of economic freedom number, from 1 to 10. But they numbered their graph from 0 to 6. They made the bottom actually go lower than is possible with their own metric. Why? To make the change from around 4.75 to 6 look way bigger than it is and to have it reach the top of the graph. A 6 out of 10 should not be at the very top of the graph! And the graph shouldn't go down to 0 when dealing with something that can only start at 1.

The graph title also suggests the graph has to do with economic freedom for the whole world by using the phrase "Economic Freedom of the World", but the graph is only about China (I think, going by how the two lines are both labelled as being for China only).

Overall, Cato is trying to show economic freedom going up and poverty going down. Eyeballing it, it looks to me like poverty went down more than economic freedom went up, using these metrics. Rather than discuss how correlated they are, or try to explain the right way to think about the issue, Cato created a grossly dishonest graph to mislead people. Cato is prioritizing shiny publicity over truth.

I also made a better chart so you can compare. For the data points, I eyeballed them from Cato's chart (not all of them, that's why it's smoother). Don't it super seriously as a fact about the world, I just wanted to see how it looked with the left and right axes fixed.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

NYT Praises War

The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth

Not enough broken windows lately, The New York Times reports some supposed economists saying. Sort of. They claim what they mean is that people get fat and lazy during peace, and the threat of war keeps everyone on their toes better.

Maybe we should start using the death penalty on people who don't produce over $20,000 of wealth per year in order to better motivate them. What do you think?

Explanations of how destruction results in economic harm are easily available. (I suggest Economics in One Lesson.) Advocating war for its own sake, and own intrinsic benefits, is disgusting. The only legitimate purpose of war or other uses of force should be defense (including indirect defense).

These people are advocating death and destruction – literally – because of their half-baked theorizing. They don't think about human suffering, or how the equivalent of whipping people to motivate them might not work well in reality. It's ivory tower "intellectuals" at their worst.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The New York Times Lying with Statistics

Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own from The New York Times:
By comparison, Microsoft says that, on average, it donates $2 million a day in software to nonprofits, and its employees have donated over $1 billion, inclusive of the corporate match, since 1983. In the last two years, Apple employees have donated $50 million, including the match.
The dishonest implication here is the Microsoft employees donate over 20 times as much money to charity, compared with Apple employees. Over $1 billion compared with $50 million. But the time periods compared are 31 years against 2 years. The per-year figures here (in millions) are over $32m/year for Microsoft against $25m/year for Apple, a much smaller difference.

A more meaningful comparison would compare the same time periods. It would also consider the number of employees of each company as well as their salaries. That would have made for better reporting.

The New York Times presents Microsoft's employee culture as being over 1900% more charitable than Apple's, but their own figures make the correct statistic 29%. By comparing absolute numbers from different time periods, they misled their audience by a factor of 65 in terms of the percent difference.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Ari Armstrong

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2014/06/homose...
The fact that the Bible advocates the murder of homosexuals (as well as the murder of “witches,” of those who worship other gods, of blasphemers, of children who “curse” their parents, of adulterers, and of non-virgins whose husbands hate them—among others) indicates that the Bible, far from being a guidebook for morality, is largely an absurd book of mindless and evil prohibitions and commandments rooted in nothing more than ancient superstitions.
In the original, six of those claims about the Bible saying to murder people are linked with sources. One is non-virgins:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuter...

What the Bible actually says is she needs to be a virgin when they marry. If a man hates his wife and accuses her of shameful things and says she wasn't a virgin when they married, then she is to be stoned. (Unless it was a false accusation and she actually was a virgin when they married, in which case the man is fined and has to keep her as a wife. I'm unclear on how it's to be decided whether she was a virgin or not using a garment.)

Armstrong said if a women is hated by her husband and a non-virgin (now), then the Bible advocates her murder. But the Bible actually only advocates her murder if her husband hates her and she was a non-virgin when they got married. The difference is her husband's taking of her virginity doesn't count against her.

After finding this scholarship error, I decided to check the other four claims using Armstrong's own links. The witches, children cursing parents, blasphemers, and adultery ones are accurate. The worshipping other gods one is wrong.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuter...

This Bible passage is saying if a family member or friend tries to "secretly" "entice" you to "serve other gods", then don't do it and kill him. So it's specifically about people who worship other gods and try to convert you. Armstrong misrepresented it.

To be clear, in none of these cases do I agree with the Biblical position.

Two misrepresentations of the Bible out of six references is a really bad error rate (33%). And this is basic stuff. Did Armstrong click on the links he gave, and read them? I'm not even sure. I don't think Armstrong should tell people they "must discard" a Bible he misrepresents and misunderstands.

Armstrong claims to offer Objectivism as a rational alternative to the Bible. But bad scholarship is irrational. Reason demands using methods of scholarship that are good at avoiding error and finding the truth. Armstrong linked this on twitter. I've tweeted him back informing him of the problem, and will update my post if he fixes his mistakes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alex Epstein Scholarship Problem

Alex Epstein wrote:
In the US, 30 years ago the average household had 3 electronic devices—today it has 25, overwhelmingly thanks to fossil fuels.
For a source, he linked this youtube video from "Alphanr" (Alpha Natural Resources). It's titled "Did You Know" and has no description. It's 89 seconds long and packed full of factual claims including the one Epstein asserted, but lacks sources. It ends with a link to their website. Searching for "Did You Know" on the site to try to find extra details results in an error. Their site says, "Alpha is a leading global coal company and the world’s third largest metallurgical coal supplier". I doubt they have expertise at surveying household electronic device usage.

Sourcing your assertion to someone else's unsourced assertion isn't scholarship. It's how lies spread.

I've investigated this topic. Several studies have been done about electronic device usage in U.S. households. However, none of them would be acceptable sources. All the ones I found have a large methodological error. For example:
Of the 37 CE [Consumer Electronic] devices surveyed, the average U.S. household owns 24, the same number as last year, and spent $961 on consumer electronics over the past 12 months, down more than $200 from last year. The average adult individually reports spending $552 on CE in the past 12 months, down $100.
They are surveying how many devices U.S. households have from a list of 37 devices. That list is incomplete. The number of devices from the list that a household has is different than the number of consumer electronic devices the household has.

There is an additional problem here. When the surveys use a specific list of devices, they change it over time. Today we would expect smartphones to be on the list. Thirty years ago, they would not have been. Changing the list of which devices count means the surveys from different years are not comparable because they measure different lists.

When you pretend what's being measured is "(consumer) electronic devices", then it would make sense to compare studies from different years, because they appear to measure the same thing. But really one survey is about list A and another survey from another year is about list B, and calling the two lists by the same name doesn't make them the same thing. Epstein's comparison between the present and thirty years ago, using two different surveys of two different things, is a mistake.

I informed Epstein of these scholarship errors and he did not fix them. He should not repeat unsourced claims from Youtube that are presumably based on misusing the readily available invalid research. The truth matters.

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Applying Philosophy to Politics

In part 1, we took a look at some "He said, she said" reporting. (Read that first.) It was poor reporting because it didn't do any research into which claims are true, nor did it suggest the reader investigate. It left people to simply listen to the claims of whoever fits their political affiliation. It's not a rational approach to listen to and believe the unargued, uninvestigated claims of Democrats if you're a Democrat, or of Republicans if you're a Republican. But Fox News didn't aim for anything better.

Correctly understanding a political issue like power plant emissions regulations requires philosophical background knowledge. Most political pundits do not have this knowledge and therefore do their jobs incompetently.

A good example of philosophical background knowledge is an understanding of the role of government in society. Without a concept of what the purpose of government regulations is, and when and why they should (and shouldn't) be created, the issue cannot be rationally evaluated.

This raises a tricky issue. Everyone has philosophical ideas. They are not avoidable. Political commentators do have ideas about the proper role of government. The problem is they don't treat their ideas about the proper role of government as a major issue to talk about. So the topic doesn't get an appropriate critical examination. Unexamined (and sometimes even unstated) philosophical ideas are no substitute for ones which are stated clearly, critically considered, and integrated into one's explanations.

I know where my philosophical ideas come from. I know which authors I'm agreeing with, and why. I know the history of ideas I've accepted. I know what the competing philosophical claims are, who advocated them, their history, and why I disagree. This is what it means to take a serious philosophical approach, as opposed to just having some philosophy you picked up somewhere and don't think about much. Everyone should do this, especially people involved in intellectual pursuits like politics. Most people do not do this. (I don't know every detail of everything. But I know a lot about this stuff, especially for issues I write about.)

The proper role of government in society is to protect its citizens from force. That is my philosophical position. Arguing for it in full would take a long time, and I don't want to go into that right now. I want to illustrate how to use this philosophical position to sort through political claims. Fortunately, arguments on this topic have already been written down. If you're interested, you can read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, especially "The Nature of Government". Atlas Shrugged also helps explain. If you read those two books and still have any questions or arguments, contact me and I'll be happy to talk about the issue more.

Now let's look at some of those political claims:
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
At face value, it's hard to tell who is right. I don't know the details of these proposed power plant regulations, and I doubt you do either. Different prestigious groups are making directly contradictory claims. At least one group must be mistaken. Many people would decide which group is mistaken by political affiliation, but that method is incapable of figuring out the truth.

However, this issue is easy to evaluate using an understanding of the role of government. The key issue here is not whether it will create or destroy jobs. The key issue is not whether it will cut bills or cost billions. A more fundamental issue is whether the government is acting according to its proper role.

Creating jobs is not the role of the government. The free market should take care of that. The government is like a giant bureaucratic company with 20 levels of management, except way bigger and with less accountability. The government is huge, heavy-handed and clumsy. I don't mean that as an attack on the government, merely facts (for details, see the books mentioned earlier). That is OK. The government doesn't have to be agile and efficient. It has a particularly hard job to do; as long as it does that job decently then that's good enough. It should not try to do everything well, it should stick to its purpose.

Given this perspective, we can ignore a lot of claims being made. Given that its government action designed to hinder companies from making the choices they think are economically best, I would expect it to do economic damage (that's another philosophical issue, though I've just mentioned it briefly and don't have space to explain today). However, that isn't the point. The government should not be in the business of creating or destroying jobs, raising or lowering bills, or otherwise trying to control the economy. The government should stick to protecting people against force.

The only defense of a regulation is that it protects people against force. The Obama administration does mention this by saying, "save thousands of lives". Saving lives is a legitimate purpose of government. The political commentary should focus on whether the regulation will or will not protect people. (This is complicated because doing economic harm does cost lives in the big picture, e.g. by leaving less wealth left over that can be used for medical research. As emotionally awkward as it may be, saving specific lives in the short term does not have unlimited value.)

So, key issue: Will burning less coal in power plants save lives? Will it protect people? No. (And neither side of the political debate is focusing on arguing this key issue.)

Coal power plants provide electricity which saves lives. Coal-based electricity helps people better control their lives and environment (for example, air conditioning saves lives during heat waves), and do less back-breaking manual labor. It dramatically improves quality of life. Reducing access to electricity does not protect people, it hurts people, so the government shouldn't do it. In part 3, I elaborate more on this view of electricity, and the related philosophy.

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Attitudes to Criticism

in the social popularity game, criticism is a negative.

in the truth-seeking game, criticism is a positive.

you can get an idea of which game people are playing by their reactions to criticism.

if someone wants public praise and private criticism, they may be trying to play both games. but the games contradict, and the contradiction will destroy them.

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ARI's False Statistics

What could your share of the national debt buy? The Ayn Rand Institute says 5558 iPhones.

ARI is using $199.99 as the price of an iPhone (16gb 5s). That is not what iPhones cost. They cost $199 (not $199.99) when you sign a contract agreeing to pay more money later. "Bill Me Later" type plans are not lower prices. The actual price is $649, meaning you could buy 1712 iPhones for your share of the national debt. (Which is still a ton, so why fudge the numbers?)

ARI's purpose is to complain about the large US national debt. By pointing out how big it is in concrete terms like 49 cars per American, they hope to help people understand it better. Campaigning for smaller government is a good cause. It should have the truth on its side. But using bullshit stats ruins that. Please don't taint good causes with irresponsibly sloppy, false claims.

In a competition with only true claims allowed, ideas like capitalism, liberalism, science and reason can win. In a competition of who can tell the most appealing lies, true ideas lose their inherent advantage. If you want to help promote the truth, stick to rational competitions only. Don't sanction irrational truth-ignoring competitions based around the most shocking headlines, popularity, social status, etc...

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"He said, she said" Reporting

Obama to announce controversial emissions limit on power plants. Coal-state lawmakers rally against power plant emissions crackdown. Fox News' prominent reporting of this major issue, unfortunately, falls short.

"The Environmental Protection Agency will ask existing plants to cut pollution by 30 percent by 2030". Major changes to power plants is a big deal, which could affect our use of power and the economy. But Fox News reports on it poorly. (In fairness, I don't think their major competitors do better.)

The first problem is visible in the headlines. Obama's attack on the free market is not objectionable only to people living in coal-states. It will hurt everyone. Fox News incorrectly treats opposition to Big Government as a special interest group issue only affecting the particular market segment under attack. (It's an "attack" because it's ultimately backed by government guns if disobeyed.)

It may be true that Coal-state lawmakers are rallying. However, plenty of other people are concerned too. By framing the issue in terms of a single biased group, Fox News discredits the opposition to Obama's expansion of government regulation.

Obama claims his policies will benefit everyone. "We don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children". He's lying and we all know it. His policies will at least be bad for the coal industry. He's trying to sacrifice some to benefit others. Fox News reinforces Obama's approach by giving the more realistic claims Obama doesn't want to personally admit to. Fox News is helping spread the idea that there is a conflict between the coal special interest group, and everyone else, and that Obama's policies could sacrifice a few to benefit the many.

Fox News fails to point out that this is not an issue of favored or disfavored groups. We aren't dealing with a special interest group. Coal accounted for 39% of US electricity production in 2013. We all need power, and coal is providing power to the country. Without coal, there would be a massive electricity shortfall and we would all suffer.

There are bigger problems with Fox News' reporting than shoddy thinking that plays into Obama's storytelling. Fox News presents the issue as a "he said, she said" debate. This treats which side you take as arbitrary (or perhaps chosen by class interest). It leaves readers confused, without knowing how to objectively evaluate the issue. Treating issues in this way always helps the people who do not have the truth on their side.

Fox News reports:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
[Obama said] “As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”
Among the plants that have to comply will be hundreds of coal-burning plants, which has resulted in strong opposition from the energy industry, big business and congressional Democrats and Republicans, who argue Obama’s green-energy agenda is tantamount to a “War on Coal.”
Coal-state lawmakers, accusing President Obama of using a back door to impose strict emissions limits on power plants, are rallying to slam that door shut -- claiming the plan would cost jobs and jack up electric bills.
(Note again the implications that opposition to this regulation is biased by being part of the energy industry or big business.)
"We have a moral obligation to act," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, in announcing the plan Monday morning.
"We will introduce bipartisan legislation that will prevent these disastrous new rules from wreaking havoc on our economy in West Virginia," Rahall said in a statement.
On Saturday, Obama tried to bolster public support for the new rule by arguing that carbon-dioxide emissions are a national health crisis -- beyond hurting the economy and causing global warming.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, called it a "dagger in the heart of the American middle class" -- and predicted higher power costs and less reliable energy as a result.
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
Can you tell what's true from these contradictory assertions? I can't. It's a mess. Fox News simply lets people claim whatever they want, and then repeats it if they're prestigious enough. Fox News should investigate the issues and provide some useful research or context to help readers understand the actual facts.

By presenting a "he said, she said" debate and implying that respected Americans take sides according to bias, Fox News is doing a disservice to the truth.

Imagine for a moment, hypothetically, that the claims on one side of this issue are largely true, and the claims on the other side are largely false. That'd be important, right? And useful writing on the topic would help readers learn about that and make intelligent judgments. And when Fox News discourages rationally considering the issues, and promotes acting on bias, then it would be betraying the side which is speaking the truth, and aiding the side which is in the wrong.

Instead, Fox News repeats assertions without investigating whether they are true. It even does this with factual assertions, which is inexcusable. And if Fox News doesn't want to take sides or do research, it could at least hint that maybe its readers should. Does Fox News have no respect for the human mind?

This is not just the fault of Fox News. Everyone quoted could have made better statements. No one is attempting to guide the public to use rational thinking methods to find the truth of this issue. No one is bringing up the key philosophical issues which allow a person to correctly work out arguments like this. In part 2, Applying Philosophy to Politics, I use philosophical methods to sort out the confusing mess of competing claims. In part 3, I discuss philosophy, progress and coal.

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