Fact Checking: Just Because a “Study” Says It, Doesn’t Make it True

There was a “study” conducted by a group of Progressive legislators in Texas that came back with some very interesting conclusions on the state of affairs in Texas. My first introduction to this so-called study was through an infographic on tumblr which I knew from the beginning had to be at least partially inaccurate.

tumblr_mqb4m8EWXX1s7va0co1_500Anyone who knows me well, also knows how seriously I take education and that graduation ranking was entirely false. So I started looking a bit deeper.

By deeper I mean that I spent 20 minutes looking for statistics from various government agencies and realize that the Texas on the Brink study that these statistics came from had cherry picked and intentionally misrepresented data in order to get the worst possible results for the state.

Composite studies like this one are only as good as the interpretation of the raw data that they give. In this case, the interpretation, based on at least these 4 data points, was woefully inaccurate. Which brings the entire study and it’s entire methodology into question.

Here’s where they went wrong.

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1. Their first statistic isn’t even listed anywhere in the study and since the infographic isn’t directly sourced, there’s no way of knowing if they grabbed that statistic from some other study and forgot to mention it.

However that hardly matters, because a quick look for recent studies on worker mortality leads to a study conducted by the AFL-CIO. Their findings put North Dakota at a much higher worker death rate, 12.4 per 100,000, while Texas had a mere 4.0 per 100,000.

So how in the world did they manage to get “#1 in worker deaths” out of that?

Simple, they outright ignored normal methodology and simple math. Texas is the state with the 2nd largest population in the nation (we’ll be coming back to that later) which naturally means that they will likely have a higher number of deaths on the job, but per capita 21 states have a higher death rate per 100,000 than Texas. It’s simply dishonest to ignore the fact that population influences these statistics.

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2. Apparently Texas is #1 in Carbon emissions. Oh lordy, here’s another statistic that simply ignored the population of the state in question in order to push an agenda.

Here’s the funny thing, I looked at the exact same EPA report that this study cites and I got #14 as the Texas rating for Carbon emissions.

Sure, the state of Texas is #1 in emissions based on those EPA numbers…if you ignore population completely, which no decent study would.

Texas is 2nd only to California in population, thus the amount of emmissions PER CAPITA is not #1 in the country by any stretch of the imagination.

Once you correct for population, Texas comes in at 25.98 metric tons of Carbon emissions per capita, which leaves 13 states with more emissions than them. Wyoming actually comes in at the top, with 114.99 metric tons of emissions per capita.

That’s a pretty stark difference, which this Texas on the Brink study should really have accounted for.

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3. 50th in high school graduation, really? No, not really.

The Texas on the Brink study presumably got their number from the 2012 Texas State fact book. Unfortunately their graduation statistics came from numbers that were 4 years old (2009) and if they had actually gone for a more recent set of numbers (say, the 2010-2011 stats from the Department of Education) their numbers would have been a bit different. Considering this was their 2013 study, you would think that the legislators would have wanted the freshest numbers, but apparently not when those numbers put Texas at 86% of student graduating, which puts them in 9th place in graduation rates.

I assume that the legislators used old scores in order to try to terrify people into raising revenues for the schools, since they put Texas as 43rd in school spending (which, ironically, may be one of the few accurate stats they gave) but they should really realize that more spending doesn’t make your schools perform better. Clearly they haven’t been reading my blog.

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4. 50th in funding for the mentally ill.

Here’s something awkward. I can’t even explain how they misinterpreted this date, because I got my data from the exact same source they claim to have used.

This one isn’t quite as egregious as the others, but it does make one scratch their head, because the data set is actually incredibly clear on that page.

tumblr_inline_mqddhc075F1qz4rgp

Even if you don’t count our territories, though this Kaiser Foundation study did, Texas still only comes in at 49th in expenditures per capita.

Which, sadly, just makes this data point a complete lie.

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Now I’m sure if I went through the 200+ data points in this study I would find a few that were accurate representations of the state of Texas, but you can see where the entire study now has to come into question.

This is something you need to remember. A study is only good as it’s sources and you can shift the burden of proof back to the other side quite quickly if you disprove the methodology of a study they use in a debate. Now it’s up to them to prove the stats they quoted, because clearly the study can’t be considered trustworthy as a matter of course.

How long did this take me?

Well writing the post took 3 times as long as the research did. There’s simply no excuse to not check sources, yours and theirs.

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Categorised in: America, Conservative, Economy, Education, Politics, Welfare

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