Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Double Dose of Absurdity from the Washington Post and Media Matters

On August 23rd, the Washington Post published a piece on the Politics section of their website by David Fahrenthold that supposedly examines the size of the US Government.  Absurdly, Fahrenthold makes the following claim:
...the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian. That’s more than the populations of 24 states.
Back in 2010, it had 4.3 million employees. More than the populations of 24 states.
Notice that  Fahrenthold includes a link to Census data, which one might expect to support his claim that the USG is employing as many people as live in nearly half of all US states.  However, if one does even a little fact-checking, it quickly becomes obvious that Fahrenthold's claim is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.

Some cursory fact-checking shows that, according to 2010 US Census data, the seven least populous states had a combined population of over 5.8 million.  That's right, 1.5 million more people live in just our seven smallest states than Fahrenthold is claiming live in 24 states.

The Post's bizarre and facially ridiculous claims are absurd enough, but then the media watchdog website Media Matters for America went and made things worse by calling Fahrenthold's claims "misleading statistics."  Rather than pointing out that Fahrenthold is simply lying, Media Matters' Ari Rabin-Havt instead decided to quibble with his choice of an example.  Apparently thinking that he is making some kind of point, Rabin-Havt points out that 4.1 million people is
...less than half the audience that viewed America's Got Talent last week.
The absurd fact is that both the Washington Post and Media Matters let Fahrenthold's claim pass without questioning the basic math involved, despite the fact that the original article provides a link to Census data that disproves his claim.  

[Update: The Washington Post's fact checker is, as I suspected, on vacation.]

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Discovers Widely Available Research

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, has finally seen the light on medical marijuana.  In an article published today on CNN.com, the good doctor goes all mea culpa and renounces his former anti-pot position, while also managing to make himself look like a complete schlemiel. 

To wit, the excuse Dr. Gupta gives for his former prohibitionist stance is that he took the government's word for it when they said pot was evil.  Seriously.  I'm not making that up.  Here is the good doctor, in his own words:
I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."
Did this guy just fall off the turnip truck or what?

Back in 2009, with medical marijuana initiatives gaining ground in many states, Gupta wrote an article in TIME magazine titled "Why I would Vote No on Pot."  How did this renowned neurosurgeon and journalist come to the determination that pot has no medicinal use and shouldn't be legalized, even a little bit?  He just assumed that the DEA had some quality reasoning...you know...somewhere.

Meanwhile, NORML's (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) website has, for quite some time, had an entire page dedicated to actual scientific research into the medicinal benefits of marijuana (as well as the risks).  But the chief medical correspondent for one of our major news outlets couldn't be bothered to investigate the claims of MM proponents.  No, that's something an actual journalist would do. 

Now, Dr. Gupta has decided to actually research the issue, rather than just taking the DEA's word for it and he's found (surprise, surprise) that the DEA is full of shit.  While it is commendable that Dr. Gupta has admitted his mistake in this instance, one has to wonder how many other of the doctor's opinions are based on his "surely, they must have quality reasoning" line of thought.  At least CNN can rest assured that Gupta isn't running up his expense account doing a bunch of needless fact-checking.