Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why Gov. Rick Scott’s Anthropology Claims Are in Good Company


Comedian Stephen Colbert mocked U.S. Sen. John Kyl of Arizona on Twitter.

Yesterday we wrote about how federal data shows anthropologists’ job prospects are better than Florida Gov. Rick Scott believes.

That got us thinking about other recent examples of politicians misquoting data or using data that does not support the point they are trying to make.

The highest-profile example came from Arizona Republican Sen. John Kyl back in April, who claimed that “well over 90 percent” of Planned Parenthood’s activities related to abortion. Planned Parenthood says abortion comprises just 3 percent of its services, according to PoltiFact.org.

Kyl’s staff then compounded the mistake by claiming the “remark was not intended to be a factual statement.”

President Barack Obama may have the highest-stakes example, according to FactCheck.org.

Obama, a Democrat, has spent the past few weeks pushing a jobs bill that would include a tax increase on the nation’s biggest earners. Obama has justified the increase by arguing that middle-income workers pay a higher tax rate than Obama himself, who earned $1.8 million in 2010.

But FactCheck.org says that just isn’t true.

“Any way we figure it, the $50,000-a-year teacher (or firefighter, or construction worker) paid a lower rate than Obama last year,” FactCheck.org concluded. “What’s more, the teacher will pay an even lower overall rate on this year’s income.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was reminded of an old saw this year when speaking about state unemployment: The plural of anecdote is not data.

Haley, a Republican, regularly claimed that half of the job applicants at the Savannah River Site were disqualified because they tested positive for drugs. Haley said lab employees told her that while she was campaigning.

A spokesman for the Savannah River Site said that only 1 percent of people tested failed. The lab only tested new hires, not applicants.

“I’ve never felt like I had to back up what people tell me. You assume that you’re given good information,” Haley the Associated Press. “And now I’m learning through you guys that I have to be careful before I say something.”

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, also ran into problems with job data.

Beshear claimed that employers created 19,000 jobs and saved 7,000 others through tax credits Beshear supported. However, the administration could not provide proof to the Louisville Courier-Journal when asked because the state does not keep track of the numbers.

The paper also found that some of the positions Beshear cited had yet to be filled. Beshear stood by the jobs claim.

Who gets good marks for data use? Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Governing Magazine named O’Malley, a Democrat, its 2009 public official of the year because of his use of data to accomplish goals as disparate as cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and improving public safety.


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