Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Experts agree!

They've done it again!

I got another email from Justin Ruben yesterday. This time, wants to recruit 108,000 of the 7 million members to post their experts' deconstruction of Romney's lies via twttter and facebook. They reckon then 'we can reach up to 40 million Americans'!

How can they do it?

Well, the average social media user has 126 Twitter followers and 245 Facebook friends.2 So if 108,000 MoveOn members (just 1.5% of us) take part in the MoveOn Truth Squad tomorrow night, we can reach up to 40 million Americans.

It's true that 1.5% of MoveOn's claimed 7 million members comes to about 108,000. And it's true that if 108,000 manage to get through to their 126 followers and 245 friends, that would come to a little over 40 million people.

So what's the problem? For one thing, it rests on the improbable assumption that not even one of those twitter followers of any of those 108,000 members is the same as any of their own Facebook friends. Impressionistically, I'd guess that the overlap is nearer 100% than the 0% required for this scheme to work as advertised. Beyond that, you'd also need to assume that not one of the followers and friends of one of the 108,000 was also a follower or friend of any of the other 107,999. And how likely is that?

You may wonder what the significance is of getting the facts out to 40 million people.

40 million Americans will tune into the first presidential debate TOMORROW NIGHT (Wednesday), but how many of them hear the truth is partly up to us.

So in addition to the bizarre assumptions MoveOn has already demanded of its members, they want us to further assume that each and every one of the 40 million we tweet the facts to will happen to be one of the 40 million watching the debate! Going way out on a limb here, I'm prepared to suggest that many of the MoveOn members' networks would in fact have watched the debate. But I'd also suggest that a large proportion of their friends and followers have already decided who to vote for and wouldn't be swayed one way or the other to learn that Romney has distorted something or other again.

The fundamental assumption underlying the entire project, of course is that Romney and only Romney needs his facts checked. It apparently goes without saying that Barrack Obama, the Leader of the Free World, would never attempt to deceive anyone, by, for example, promising to close Guantánamo Bay, or to pass the Employee Free Choice Act through Congress.

Unlike, Because the moral of the story seems to be either that MoveOn isn't aware of these issues or that they don't think the members are. In either case, does that make them the ones you'd trust to do your fact checking for you?

The icing on the cake is, 'Experts agree: Mitt Romney really needs to win this debate.' According to Rasmussen, earlier today, US time, the candidates were nearly neck and neck – with 49% favouring Obama and 47% for Romney. And ScottRasmussen himself, presumably one of the 'experts', does not, in fact, agree.

The last time a presidential debate changed the race was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan outperformed Jimmy Carter. More recent history shows the debates having only a modest impact...In 2008,...The debate did little for either man. Four years earlier, there was a similar reaction to the debates between President George W. Bush and John Kerry. When Bush had a bad night, the only thing that changed was Bush supporters decided (after the fact) that debates didn't matter all that much. In the past couple of elections, the numbers have shifted three points between late September polling and the actual results on Election Day...Only in the absence of other news could a slight change in the race coming out of the debates be decisive.

It is actually deplorable that MoveOn's assertion that 'experts agree' is at best partially true, and that's without checking the level of consensus among other psephologists. But the point is that, again, MoveOn either doesn't understand that 'Nine out of ten doctors can't be wrong' is not evidence or expects its members to fall for it. I might just mention in passing that, in much the same vein, Justin has kindly provided some footnotes. You might have noticed one in the first passage I quoted. They are all to items on their own site!

Anyway, why is it so important to to work so hard to get Obama reelected? There's not much difference between the candidates on most issues. Certainly on the fundamental issues – bailouts for the corporations, tax cuts for the rich, foreclosures and sackings for the rest of us, profitable business for the health insurance and big pharma industries, not to mention Big Oil, no matter how many must die...there is no daylight visible between them. One area where they do disagree, however, is on abortion. Obama supporters are concerned that Romney could appoint anti-life justices (who oppose the right to choose) to the Supreme Court, leading to reversal of Roe v. Wade. Curiously, Obama's two appointments, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have both taken anti-life positions. Sotomayor held in a 2002 decision that 'the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds.' And Kagan urged Clinton in 1997 to support banning 'late-term abortion'. 

But maybe next time he'll get it right?