More Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

Leftyblogs have been going gaga over a map that supposedly shows a dramatic fall in median income nationwide — however, as Megan McArdle finds the methodology used to produce the map tries to compare apples to oranges:

Given that there was huge divergence between the 1999 income figures from the Census, and the 2000 figures from the ACS–a rather obvious spot check–I personally would never have dared make such a comparison in print, even with footnotes. All their graph really tells us is that the new ACS produces lower estimates of median income than the Census long form. The ACS may well be more accurate. But it doesn’t matter; you can’t compare apples to oranges just because the apples are prettier.

Journalists generally aren’t statisticians — they’re looking to sell you a story, and they’ll massage the facts in whatever way they can to make that story more dramatic. However, that doesn’t make the argument true. Since the media seems unwilling to check its facts, one has to look at everything presented with a jaundiced eye, and the more dramatic the story, the more the likelihood that the media has gotten it wrong.

10 thoughts on “More Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

  1. The voting public planning to vote for Democrats by double-digit majorities will get the final say on the matter. If, as you guys keep saying, the average working person has never had it better due to trillions of dollars worth of tax cuts directed to the richest 1%, I’m sure Republicans across the country will be duly rewarded for it. To be continued….

  2. Speaking of trying to sell a story, I would probably put a righty blogger in that camp. A more important indicator than whether people are losing ground–for political purposes, that is–is whether people feel like their income isn’t keeping up. And on that front, for whatever reason, the middle class feels like it is losing ground by overwhleming margins. That’s not good for the party in power.

  3. Seth, it’s not a matter of “for whatever reasons”. Facing a crunch of rising energy costs, rising health care costs (combined with disappearing health care coverage), a diminishing retirement safety net, jobs going overseas, stagnant wages for all but the wealthiest individuals, and the wolf knocking on the door to collect the bill for the average $9,000 household credit card debt used to prop up the “economic boom” of the last few years, Americans are not experiencing a mirage of economic jitters, but legitimate fears, along with a recognition that the worst is yet to come.

  4. Of course, to the Democrats it doesn’t matter that their economic arguments are based on lies and spreading fear — the idea that “the worst is yet to come” in a time of unprecedented prosperity is ridiculous. Then again, state a lie long enough and people begin to accept it as the truth.

    The fact that the Detroit Free Press deliberately manipulated statistics doesn’t seem to bother the Democrats much… which says quite a bit about their intellectual honesty.

  5. Mark–
    The “for whatever reasons” was stated so that Jay has to answer to the fact that a majority of Americans feel like they are falling farther and farther behind without spouting some of the statistics that come from his righty blogs and think tanks and treating them like gospel.

    The economy on a macro- level looks fantastic. Problem is all of the prosperity is going to a few people, and in this case it’s true that a rising tide raises all yachts.
    Among swing voters, 60% say they are very dissatisfied or fairly dissatisfied with the current economic situation and people very dissatisfied outnumber very satisfied 4-1. Among the same swing voters, 60% say the cost of living is rising faster than their income, while only 8% say income is increasing faster than the cost of living. The Republicans keep talking about all of this prosperity but no one in the middle class is seeing it. You tell me who’s right.

  6. without spouting some of the statistics that come from his righty blogs and think tanks and treating them like gospel

    So now the Census Department is part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy?! I think your tinfoil hat is on a bit too tight…

    You tell me who’s right.

    In general, the people who have the facts on their side.

    Furthermore, even if one accepts the public perception that the economy is bad, the proposed Democratic proposals to deal with it won’t do a damned thing, and will in fact make things worse. If it wouldn’t lead to thousands of people dying, I’d really like to see the American people have to deal with the nightmare of “universal” health care. When people start realizing that Grandma is going to be left to die because her cancer is to expensive to treat, the Democrats would get run out of town on a rail.

    It’s odd that a time when nearly every economic factor is identical to the “boom” years of the mid-1990s, the present is viewed as terrible by Democrats – which shows that to the Democratic Party, facts just don’t matter.

    The Democrats ran on economic fearmongering in 2004 as well, and it didn’t help. Furthermore, the Democrats can’t offer anything but mealy-mouthed platitudes to fix all the problems they keep imagining. And even if (God forbid!) they have a chance to start enacting policy, they’d send the US economy into recession and give us the same collapsing system of rationed health care, double-digit unemployment, and unmanageable social promises that is plaguing Europe. Except our larger population will make the system collapse proportionally faster.

    The party that once said we have “nothing to fear but fear itself” has nothing left to offer but fear itself these days…

  7. Bottom line: overwhelming majorities of swing voters say they are getting worse and worse off in the Republican economy. You can tell them they are wrong and call them liars all you want. Please keep that strategy going right through November 7.

  8. The only ones lying are the Democrats, who are campaigning on fear and lies.

    The biggest factor for the unease about the economy is (or was) the price of gasoline. With the price of gas going down, if the Democrats are counting on their campaign of fear to work, they’d better hope that something bad happens between now and November 7…

  9. I hope the GOP embraces Jay’s strategy of dripping condescension towards nervous middle-class and working-class voters’ very legitimate economic concerns. The more country club Republicans like Jay tell the little people across the tracks to suck it up and enjoy the good life, the more said people are reminded of why the Republican Party has a reputation as the party of the “cakes”.

  10. 1.) You can call it campaigning on fear and lies, I’d call it telling it like it is.

    2.) Campaigning on fear and lies? Do the Democrats have GOP operatives working for them now or what?

    3.) Actually, protecting wages, benefits and pensions polls higher among swing voters than gas prices. Prescription drugs, tax cuts for the wealthy, ending tax loopholes for corporations and cracking down on CEO pay all polls within 5 points. Even if gas prices go down to $2–which would still be an increase of one-third over three years–the GOP has a lot of explaining to do to middle class voters. Come to think of it, I’m perfectly happy with you thinking this election hinges on gas prices for the GOP.

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