How to spot FAKE NEWS!

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”1

This article, “Poll: Few voters report seeing bigger paychecks after tax changes” is FAKE NEWS! Let me explain why.

The first sentence of the article is very misleading: “Most voters aren’t noticing more money in their paychecks under the new tax law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.”

If you dig into the data a bit, you will begin to understand why: only 47% of the poll’s respondents qualified as “employed.”

The second sentence, “Just a quarter of registered voters, 25 percent, say they have noticed an increase in their paycheck, the poll shows. A majority, 51 percent, say they have not,” is misleading for the same reason, over half of them are not employed.

The third sentence, “Among employed voters — those working in the private and public sectors, plus those who are self-employed — a larger percentage, 37 percent, have noticed an uptick on their pay stubs,” leaves out a piece of critical information: many people had not yet received a paycheck where the change to tax withholding would have been applied. The IRS issued new withholding tables on February 1. This poll was conducted from February 15th through February 19th.

  • For those paid on a monthly basis, the first paycheck where they will have a difference won’t be delivered until they receive their pay for February, probably in March.
  • For those paid on a bi-weekly or semi-monthly basis, it is likely they responded to the survey before they received their pay on the 15th or 16th.
  • For those that get paid weekly, at best they received one pay check that would have included the new withholding amounts.

All data, but especially polling data has to be analyzed in context. The context for this poll is that quite a few respondents should not have been allowed to answer these questions (or the data should not have been reported) because they could not have been affected by the new withholding rates.

This is FAKE NEWS, not because the data is fake, but because the data is irrelevant.

What I learned watching 60 Minutes

Last night, I was lying in bed reading a book while my wife watched a recorded episode of 60 Minutes. The theme of the episode was about Americans making a difference. A segment came on about the Health Wagon, a mobile clinic that travels the back roads of Virginia in Appalachia country providing health care services to those too poor to have health insurance, but too rich to receive Medicaid.

I learned two very important things by watching that segment, both of which I already knew, but hadn’t really grokked (The book I was reading was Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, hence the use of the word grokked).

Lesson #1: Individual Health Requires Individual Responsibility

Every one of the people featured as Health Wagon patients had conditions or diseases linked directly to poor lifestyle. Diabetes, emphysema, heart disease. Every one of these conditions can be prevented and even eliminated by making good lifestyle decisions. Decisions as simple as stop smoking, don’t eat nutritionally vacuous food, walk. To be fair, the folks featured in the story probably don’t have the education to know these things, as their lifestyle choices are likely a result of bad information passed down over a couple of generations. The agricultural policies of the federal government haven’t helped either, promoting crops that maximize calories rather than nutrition. The key to changing the health landscape of this country has got to start with what goes in the body, not how to repair the damage.

Lesson #2: The Jobs in the Coal Mining Industry are not Coming Back

At one point, Scott Pelley made a comment about how coal is mined, “In coal these days, they just take off the top of a mountain, and you don’t need many men for that.” The people who rely on coal for their livelihood are in a tough position. The opportunities they grew up with are quickly disappearing. The only hope they have is to learn how to do something else. Most likely that would require them to leave the only home they’ve known and go to where the educational and economic opportunities exist. That’s hard. It’s hard financially, it’s hard emotionally, it can be hard physically.

Part of solving the health care problem might be in solving the economic opportunities problem. Both problems require education and a bit of hard work.