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UPDATED: Who’s Saying What About the Data?

As if their intention is to provide us with helpful examples for our arguments, the folks at FakeCheck have a new post that could serve as a classroom exercise for my earlier essay.  I’ll address the substance of the argument elsewhere, but for my immediate purposes: What clues are there in the FakeCheck post that can help a reader judge its credibility?

First, in keeping with the practice on that site (and the tendency of those who are likely behind it), the post is completely anonymous.  The author wants to attack my credibility as if he or she is an expert on accounting, but who is it?  Without knowing that, a reader can’t tell whether the author’s assertions about what’s true, false, obvious, normal, or unusual are anything more than politically convenient nonsense.

Second, although attacking a specific comment of mine, the author provides no link so readers can look at the context and make sure that FakeCheck is not misrepresenting what was being said.  Not surprisingly, the author is misrepresenting the conversation, which can be found in the comment section a post of mine on Anchor Rising-Ocean State Current.

An anonymous commenter asked “if it is true that [my] numbers are missing a full year.”  For reasons on which I’ll elaborate in a moment, I thought the commenter was referencing the 2012 data, which I hadn’t mentioned in the original post.  So, I replied as FakeCheck quotes me, noting that the 2012 data wasn’t a good comparison for a big reason that didn’t apply to the 2013 and 2014 data.

Third, the FakeCheck author uses a number of loaded words and phrases, like “completely FALSE,” “preposterous,” and even “dangerous.”  But notice that he or she never puts down numbers that show an error or give some sense of how significant it is if there is one.  He or she insists that accounting “explains most of the difference,” which implies that he or she knows the number, but it’s not provided.

I reported that the Fezette household of Tiverton — Steve the high school principal and Susan the elementary school teacher — were paid a total of $180,734 in fiscal year 2014, which was up 12% from their $161,571 in 2013.  What does FakeCheck count as “most of the difference”?  Was the Fezettes’ 2013 take really $176,000, while their 2014 take was $178,000?  Was one year less and the other more?  The FakeCheck writer doesn’t tell us.

Fourth, the FakeCheck author is attacking me for doing something that I didn’t do, but there is somebody who made exactly the mistake of which I’m being accused: a FakeCheck author!  Whether it’s the same person or not we have no way to know, but in an earlier post, FakeCheck accused me of dishonesty because I didn’t include distorted numbers!

Justin uses 2013 and 2014 payrol data, which he even acknowledged has some anomalies, to tell us about a combined 12% pay increase from 2013 to 2014 for two Tiverton School Department employees. However, he FAILS to include 2012 data. The combined 2014 pay for the two employees targeted is actually about 8% LESS than they received in 2012! Of course, including the 2012 data makes his claim less interesting.

As I explained in the AR-OSC comment, the 2012 numbers are inflated because a large payment attributable to FY11 happened to be made in FY12 because of the way the pay checks landed on the calendar.  See this data note for more information, but in brief, in FY12, it wasn’t just a misalignment of paychecks, but a big summer payment.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call FakeCheck’s earlier attack “sloppy analysis.”  It doesn’t even rise to that level.  The whole site is just one or more people looking for any excuse to say bad things about me.

Helping Tiverton residents understand what’s going on with their government and vote intelligently is clearly not the objective of FakeCheck, just like it was never the objective of the Tiverton 1st political action committee.

UPDATE (9/20/14 9:56 p.m.)

Readers who didn’t follow all of the links above when this was first posted might notice that the page on which FakeCheck makes the mistake of which its authors subsequently accuse me has an “update” that attempts to clarify their error away.  Note, especially, that this “update” has no date or time, but it was posted only after I made the above observation.

(FakeCheck has made a number of other edits, as well, but doesn’t bother to tell readers what has changed or when or why.  It’s kind of like the Soviet Union or the party in George Orwell’s 1984, changing history when the old truth becomes politically inconvenient.)

The most important thing of which to take note, however, is that the authors continue to refuse to acknowledge any other arguments but the ones they want their readers to believe.  Please consider what this tactic tells you about who is behind FakeCheck and what they’re trying to do.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz, Vice President of the Tiverton Town Council, is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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