Monday, November 20, 2017

Newspapers don't care about printing the truth

They care about printing a story:
Every November, the FBI releases its hate-crime statistics for the previous year. They've been doing this every year for a long time. When they do so, various news organizations grab the data and write a quick story around it.

By "story" I mean a story. Raw numbers don't interest people, so the writer instead has to wrap it in a narrative that does interest people. That's what the writer has done in the above story, leading with the fact that hate crimes have increased.

But is this increase meaningful? What do the numbers actually say?

To answer this, I went to the FBI's website, the source of this data, and grabbed the numbers for the last 20 years, and graphed them in Excel, producing the following graph:

As you can see, there is no significant rise in hate-crimes. Indeed, the latest numbers are about 20% below the average for the last two decades, despite a tiny increase in the last couple years. Statistically/scientifically, there is no change, but you'll never read that in a news article, because it's boring and readers won't pay attention. You'll only get a "news story" that weaves a narrative that interests the reader.
In this case, the narrative was "Hate crimes increase".

Really, the only thing to add to this analysis is that certain narratives are more pleasing to the progressives that populate the News Room than others.  Those pleasing narratives will get pushed to the front page, while less pleasing narratives will get "fact checked" to death.

As Mark Twain said, if you don't read the newspaper you're uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper you're misinformed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not a statistician, so the question that comes to mind for me, is what would constitute a statistically significant change in the number of hate crimes?
Does the ~0.0179% increase from 2015-16 meet this threshold? My intuition says it likely does not, but I am loath to present that alone as a viable argument.

Obviously, any number > 0 is undesirable (nevermind an increase of 271), but as with all things, you need to be able to appropriately weigh the risk (and changing risk) of an occurrence before you can take a rational course of action to address it.