Debate Alarm: The Fake Statistic Strikes Again

Outrageous.

That damn statistic again. Well, there goes THAT head!

Candy Crowley, disgracefully, chose another question at a Presidential debate—the last one was 12 years ago—based on the completely false and misleading statistic, made up by activists, that women earn “72%” of what men do in the workplace, suggesting that there is widespread gender discrimination in wages. It’s not true; it hasn’t been true for decades. It’s a myth, and one that misleads the public by being given this kind of publicity and credibility. ( The question Crowley allowed even lowered the fake percentage an extra, and fake, 5% from the “77%” Bernard Shaw negligently used in a question to Joe Lieberman. in 2000.) I’m glad Romney didn’t dignify it with a direct answer—he was placed in the position of either telling the questioner, “That stat is imaginary,” or furthur imbedding it by treating it as reality.

I’m generally a fan of Candy’s, but this was irresponsible, and I’m disappointed in her. Public policy debate shouldn’t be framed by simple-minded, misleading factoids, and it is the duty of journalists to insist on facts.

30 thoughts on “Debate Alarm: The Fake Statistic Strikes Again

  1. I just got back from work in time to catch a few minutes of this “debate”. I saw President Obama suggest that he was going to charge foreign businesses US income taxes (he said Romney wouldn’t make them pay taxes on foreign profits and he was going to). When Romney tried to answer, the president interrupted him after 30 seconds, the moderator allowed it, and when the President was finished three minutes later, she told Romney he had to answer a different question. From the performance I saw, I am not surprised that she would pull out fake statistics to help her side ‘win’ the debate.

      • Agreed on Lehrer. I only caught Raddatz once giving a prompt to Biden… and that may have been only to keep him on topic and from making a even bigger jerk out of himself. Crowley was obviously the least successful of the three in holding her biases in check. Yet, with so much on the line for Obama, it may actually be to her credit that she contained herself as well as she did! I did notice, though, that the questions (which she picked) were conducive to Obama’s necessary talking points. I’m sure that Romney expected this and more going into the debate.

  2. One of my favorite false stats! There are so many, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also especially like the ‘ more women are abused on Super Bowl Sunday’ lie; it manages to somehow conflate domestic violence with stuff that men really like (THE SUPERBOWL!). My favorite true stat: Half the people in the world are of below average intelligence.

    • Not necessarily true. There is a difference between median and average. If there are ten people, and one of them earms $10,000 a year, and the rest earn nothing, the average income is $1,000 per year. Clearly significantly more than half earn less than the average income.

  3. Well she WOULD pick a faulty question- we humans only use 10% of our brains, you know.
    I hope it doesn’t lead voters to go into a depression after the election. There are a lot more suicides during the holidays.

      • She picked a popular piece of misinformation that, typically, cannot be called an outright lie due to the way it was presented. This, however, pretty well summarized Obama’s entire presentation as well. But he DID tell one flat lie (his first Libya speech) that will come back to haunt him. Whether it will rise to the level of President Ford’s Poland gaffe remains to be seen.

  4. I’m worried about these fake statistics leading to unnecessary conflict between the sexes. I mean, our divorce rate is already 50%.

  5. The moderator should have either corrected the stat from 72% to 80%, or used a different question.

    But I don’t agree with you that the stat is inherently dishonest. It’s a real stat, calculated by the bureau of labor statistics. Unlike in the example you linked to, the questioner did not claim that the wage gap is “for the same work,” so she didn’t misstate what the statistic measures.

    Employer discrimination is part of the reason for the wage gap, but there are other reasons which are also legitimate areas of concern. The entire wage gap doesn’t have to be caused by direct employer discrimination to be worth talking about.

    • The bottom line is that it’s a misleading stat that doesn’t indicate what it seems to, or how it is used, and it doesn’t prompt useful debate. It is usually rephrased as “a woman’s work is recognized as only 75% as valuable as a man’s.” I put it right there with the use of the 3/5 a citizen formula for black Americans in the Constitution as a completely and intentionally misrepresented statistic. Watch “The Good Wife”: Alicia earns less than her male law school classmates because she took over a decade off to raise her family, then returned to firm practice. She deserves to earn less than them, but she contributes to that DOL statistic. Drives me nuts.

      • I agree the question that was used in the debate was bad, because it said 72% rather than, say, 78%. (72% is the wage gap of black women compared to the average male wage). But my understanding of your argument is that you’d be just as against the question even if she had gotten the number right.

        To make this argument, you say that it doesn’t matter how the questioner actually phrased it, because “it is usually rephrased” some other way. This is such a blatantly dishonest argument on your part that I can only assume you blushed with shame as you typed it. “Rephrasing” an argument to make it weaker, so you can knock it down, is as straw man as it gets.

        That said, you do make a single argument that is, in my view, a very good argument. You say “The bottom line is that it’s a misleading stat that doesn’t indicate what it seems to, or how it is used, and it doesn’t prompt useful debate.” I agree with this; the statistic is constantly misunderstood, and therefore shouldn’t be used unless the person using it explains what it refers to.

        • I may have been inexact. However it is phrased, the question as asked is universally understood to mean more than the plain words convey, and my rephrasing indicated what that was: that women are blatantly under-valued in the workplace compared to men. They are under-valued, but the statistic has nothing to do with it. The question is like asking, “What do the candidates propose to do about the deliberate under-employment of paraplegics in flamenco dance companies?” Asking what the candidates propose to do about the percentage suggests that the percentage is an accurate explanation of the problem. It’s not. Unless there is unisex social restructuring along Orwellian lines, even the complete elimination of all workplace bias against women would fail to eliminate much of that gap. Flexibility in the workplace, which Romney went on about, is fine, but if it also means working fewer hours, as it often does, you get paid less, and that’s fair. My sister, as a government attorney, took a pay cut when her kids were born to work fewer hours. More women than men take such steps. That lowers the percentage. What needs to be done about that? NOTHING. The question suggests otherwise, because the question is routinely re-phrased as “Women earn 78% of what men do for the same job!” That’s what people hear, that’s what that questioner intended to convey, and that’s what’s wrong with the question, the stat, and the fact that it was allowed as a debate topic.

        • I may have been inexact. However it is phrased, the question as asked is universally understood to mean more than the plain words convey, and my rephrasing indicated what that was: that women are blatantly under-valued in the workplace compared to men. They are under-valued, but the statistic has nothing to do with it. The question is like asking, “What do the candidates propose to do about the deliberate under-employment of paraplegics in flamenco dance companies?” Asking what the candidates propose to do about the percentage suggests that the percentage is an accurate explanation of the problem. It’s not. Unless there is unisex social restructuring along Orwellian lines, even the complete elimination of all workplace bias against women would fail to eliminate much of that gap. Flexibility in the workplace, which Romney went on about, is fine, but if it also means working fewer hours, as it often does, you get paid less, and that’s fair. My sister, as a government attorney, took a pay cut when her kids were born to work fewer hours. More women than men take such steps. That lowers the percentage. What needs to be done about that? NOTHING. The question suggests otherwise, because the question is routinely re-phrased as “Women earn 78% of what men do for the same job!” That’s what people hear, that’s what that questioner intended to convey, and that’s what’s wrong with the question, the stat, and the fact that it was allowed as a debate topic.

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