Thursday, June 29, 2017

Halfway round the world

In which the fake news gets halfway round the world -- OK, about 220 miles south, given the I-75 detour -- before the editors put on their trousers:

Columbus received a top ranked among 75 other cities in a comparison done by QuoteWizard, an online insurance comparison marketplace. Unfortunately, the ranking isn’t good news. It’s for the worst-driving cities in America.

And you can write the rest from there. A competent spellcheck* probably should have caught "received a top ranked," but it wouldn't tell you that the "comparison" is meaningless babble designed to snag a few bursts of free publicity for QuoteWizard. For that, it would help to have an editor, and guess what the Dispatch** did that doesn't bode well for editors?

Please don't mistake that for a cause-and-effect argument. We're no more hospitable to post hoc claims now than back before the War on Editing began. But it's worth pointing out that if you're, oh, the New York Times and you want to avoid running stupid post hoc editorial claims about the better-forgotten Sarah Palin, you probably shouldn't start by eliminating the job classification*** with the highest proportion of people who will call your writers on bogus reasoning.

* Word didn't, from which you may draw conclusions next time Word questions you about the passive voice.

** Your Editor and frequent commenter RayB are somewhere amid the throng in this crowd shot.
***  Which is still holding the bridge with class, if you've missed it.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Today in lying

The afternoon's top story at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network certainly rips the mask off one of the chief miscreants of the 0blamer administration, dunnit? I mean, daring to play the race and gender card when Unmaskinggate is closing in:

Susan Rice, the Obama national security adviser under fire over her alleged involvement in the “unmasking” of Trump associates during the 2016 presidential election, suggested in a fresh interview that race and gender might be playing a role in the scrutiny she’s faced.

Sounds serious! I wonder if it's true.

In an interview with journalist Michael Tomasky for New York Magazine, Rice reportedly questioned the criticism she’s faced dating back to the Benghazi controversy.

Funny, lots of adults do that. What's the problem here?

“Why me? Why not Jay Carney, for example, who was then our press secretary, who stood up more?” she asked.

Tomasky noted in the piece that Carney “isn’t an African-American woman, of course” and apparently asked Rice whether that is the key factor. Rice, in response, left the door open:

“I don’t know… I do not leap to the simple explanation that it’s only about race and gender. I’m trying to keep my theories to myself until I’m ready to come out with them. It’s not because I don’t have any.”

In other words, Susan Rice "links" race and gender to "the 'unmasking' backlash" by ... declining the opportunity to link them to BENGHAZI!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can see why -- other than the marginally literate prose its staff produces -- Fox doesn't want you to read past the headline. It doesn't just lie about the evidence; it lies about what it's lying about.
Read more »

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tell them to buy an ad

Q: What's the best way to get some free publicity for your business?*
A: Dangle a "study" in front of a local journalist!

DETROIT - Detroit is the best driving city in America, according to a new study.

QuoteWizard published a new study ranking the best and worst driving cities in America, ranking 75 cities.

The final rankings are sum of weighted means calculated from these parameters

  • Accidents
  • Speeding tickets
  • DUIs
  • Citations (running a red light, using a cellphone while driving, etc.) 
If you're wondering what that all means, you might be tempted to click through to the study itself:

After QuoteWizard compared the best and worst drivers by state, we wanted to know more about how drivers in America's 75 most populous city metro areas stack up against each other. Here's how we did it:

How do you statistically determine bad driving? We sampled incident stats from users of our website with over two million data points from 2016. To quantify over driver standards for comparison, we weighted incident counts for each city with its occurrence percentage. The final rankings are sum of weighted means** calculated from these parameters:

You don't know a lot more than you did before, but you do know one important thing: "Two million" is just a number with some zeroes until you know what it's two million of and how the two million were chosen. In this case, it's "data points" drawn in some undescribed fashion from "users of our website," though there's no indication of how those are related in turn to the "incident stats" that were apparently "sampled" in some undescribed way.

Should you draw any conclusions about whether Detroit is a good or bad "driving city" from the study? Given that the link from the anchor text complaining about Detroit's "oft-uninsured drivers" goes to a story about a fatal crash involving two unlicensed drivers at an intersection*** 50-plus miles from our snug little office in midtown, you make the call.

That's sort of the point. You don't need a course in statistics to ask what a crash in the wilds of Livingston County has to do with driver habits in Detroit. You just need to ask. And you don't need a course in statistics to ask what a writer means by "incident count," "city" and "occurrence percentage," not to mention why and how the means are weighted, or even why users of an insurance comparison website would be a good representation of a city where a huge proportion of drivers are uninsured. That's why we tell people in quant classes to write for their smart friends in the English department: Being able to explain your data is a good indication that you understand your data. Using numberish-sounding words that you don't explain is often strongly correlated with, well, bullshitting.

This isn't "fake news" in the 2016 sense; it's the old-school kind that has always gotten past enough gatekeepers to do its work. The traditional response is "tell them to buy an ad."

* Whose purpose seems to be summed up in this note: By clicking "Find Discounts & Check Rates" I provide my signature, expressly authorizing telemarketing calls from this website, our marketing and re-marketing partners, and up to eight insurance companies or their agents or partner companies at the phone number, including wireless numbers, and address provided, in order to deliver insurance quotes or to obtain additional information for such purpose, via live, pre-recorded or auto-dialed calls, text messages, or email for up to 180 days.** Yes, this would suggest that the TV station didn't read before copy-pasting.
*** One of the drivers was from Oakland County, which at least is in the three-county metro area, though it's not the county that contains Detroit.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

You provide the prose poems ...

What do you suppose was the top story for most of Friday at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

From siccing wild dogs on his own uncle to gunning down his enemies with artillery meant for taking out planes, North Korea's Kim Jong Un has built a reputation for dispatching with extreme prejudice all those who cross him.

While some of the terrifying methods of execution have never been confirmed, the mere mention of them is sure to keep his inner circle in line - and any potential rivals quiet, say experts. A confirmed favorite tactic, blowing people away with anti-aircraft guns, leave victims unrecognizable.

I'm not sure if the grammar is there to distract you from the admission that the story's bogus or the other way around. Anyway ...

"Because there are several guns bound together, it would be hard to find the body after firing it once," Hong Hyun-ik, chief researcher at the Sejong Institute, a security think tank based in Seoul, told local broadcaster YTN in 2015. "It's really gruesome."

In late February, South Korean officials revealed that five North Korean officials had been subjected to the particularly grisly form of overkill. Other methods trickle out of the secretive Hermit Kingdom, their unverified status only burnishing the legend of Kim's depravity.

A report that one official was killed by a mortar round has been treated with skepticism. But the tale sent a strong message when coupled with his alleged crime: drinking and carousing during the official mourning period following the death of Kim's father, the equally brutal Kim Jong Il.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thufferin' thuccotash

How's it going with your decision to cut out those pesky layers of editors, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

A report last Sunday about the wedding of Spouse I and Spouse II Jr. misstated the name of the town in Maine where the groom’s parents worked. It is Bath,* not Bass. The report also misstated the name of the company where the groom’s father worked. It is Bath Iron Works, not Bass Iron Works.

Now close your eyes and imagine an age in which Jane's Fighting Ships was as easy to find in the newsroom as a guide to the "Star Wars" canon. On second thought, don't.

* As your paper appears to have noted on 10 other occasions in the past year.


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Saturday, June 03, 2017

Editing: Ur doin it wrong

In the wake of the Times's decision to sue for armistice in the War on Editing, the above presentation from the Washington Post's Friday afternoon e-newsletter is worth a moment's reflection.

Granted,* a straight-up-the-middle fact check of the Orange Peril's random babbling on Thursday about the Paris climate accord is a laudable journalistic mission, even if it overlooks the really entertaining stuff. For instance, the Orange Peril's decision to begin his remarks by addressing a terrorist attack that even his pet news outlet doesn't think is a terrorist attack:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila. We’re closely monitoring the situation, and I will continue to give updates if anything happens during this period of time. But it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.

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