Fact Checking The Fact Checkers: PolitiFact Fails At Basic Arithmetic


Fact checker PolitiFact set out Wednesday to disprove President Trump’s claim that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has an 80% overturn rate.

In doing so, the fact checker inadvertently demonstrated that they are incapable of performing basic arithmetic.

PolitiFact used the statistics from SCOTUSBlog’s Supreme Court statistics archive.

SCOTUSBlog provides “Circuit Scorecards” for each year, and from this data PolitiFact “calculated” their numbers.

If you’d like to follow along, here are direct links to scorecards used by PolitiFact to come up with their numbers:

(2010) (2011) (2012) (2013) (2014) (2015)

PolitiFact stated the following:

The Supreme Court reversed about 70 percent of cases it took between 2010-15. Among cases it reviewed from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it reversed about 79 percent.

PolitiFact also “calculated” the reversal rate for each circuit court from 2010 to 2015:

  • 6th Circuit – 87 percent
  • 11th Circuit – 85 percent
  • 9th Circuit – 79 percent
  • 3rd Circuit – 78 percent
  • 2nd Circuit and Federal Circuit – 68 percent
  • 8th Circuit – 67 percent
  • 5th Circuit – 66 percent
  • 7th Circuit – 48 percent
  • DC Circuit – 45 percent
  • 1st Circuit and 4th Circuit – 43 percent
  • 10th Circuit – 42 percent

These numbers are demonstrably false.

Here’s how PolitiFact messed up

 

 

PolitiFact “calculated” that the Supreme Court reversed 79 percent of cases received by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals from 2010 to 2015.

That’s incorrect.

From 2010 to 2015, the Supreme Court took 103 cases from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court reversed 77 of those cases.

 

77 divided by 103 = 74.76 percent

The correct number is 74.76 percent

Here’s how the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists at PolitiFact “calculated” 79 percent from that data.

Instead of adding up each affirmed and reversed case, they just took the average of the end-year percentages provided on each SCOTUSBlog scorecard from 2010 to 2015.

79 + 71 + 86 + 92 + 63 + 80 = 471

471 divided by 6 = 78.5

PolitiFact rounded up to get 79 percent.

PolitiFact — this is not how you calculate percentages.

PolitiFact also failed to calculate the 3 cases affirmed by a 4-4 split decision by the Supreme Court from 2010 to 2015.

 

Give it up for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists at PolitiFact

 

PolitiFact incorrectly calculated every single number in their report.

To make matters worse for the “fact-checkers” at PolitiFact — the correct calculation of the 9th circuit’s reversal rate makes President Trump’s argument against the 9th circuit a lot weaker.

So, give a round of applause to PolitiFact for inadvertently defending President Trump.

 

The correct numbers

 

Below are the corrected calculations for what PolitiFact provided in it’s “fact check” report.

The Supreme Court reversed 68.87 percent of cases it took between 2010-15. Among cases it reviewed from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it reversed 74.76 percent.

From 2010 to 2015, ranked highest to lowest reversal rate:

  • 11th Circuit – 87.5 percent
  • 6th Circuit – 84.85 percent
  • 9th Circuit – 74.76 percent
  • State – 73.85 percent
  • 3rd Circuit – 73.08 percent
  • 8th Circuit – 72.73 percent
  • 5th Circuit – 69.23 percent
  • Federal Circuit – 67.86 percent
  • 2nd Circuit – 57.14 percent
  • 7th and 10th Circuit – 55.56 percent
  • DC Circuit – 52.63 percent
  • Dist. Court – 50 percent
  • 4th Circuit – 48 percent
  • 1st Circuit – 46.15 percent

It’s also worth noting that the 103 cases from the 9th Circuit heard by the Supreme Court from 2010 to 2015 represented 21.96 percent of the Supreme Court’s 469 cases from 2010 to 2015

Conclusion

 

Take what PolitiFact reports with a grain of salt.

 

And to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists at PolitiFact…

Khan Academy offers a great set of courses on basic arithmetic. I suggest starting off with addition and subtraction:

In this topic, we will add and subtract whole numbers. The topic starts with 1+1=2 and goes through adding and subtracting within 1000. We will cover regrouping, borrowing, and word problems.

 

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  • Phil Freeman

    Seems to me the real issue isn’t defending trump, or adding political salt to a national wound, rather its the average that the overall circuits had for overturned cases by SCOTUS. Good god what a horrible rate. Fact is, there are no political solutions, never has been. We no longer have government in the traditional sense. We have a bank pretending to offer government services. With the private bank’s debt instrument used as a medium of exchange that is loaned to us at interest, expect zero changes in benefiting the people. We must return to honest weights and measures.

  • Frank A.

    They could have used an algebraic approach as well; i.e., solving for x in a ratio.
    77/103 = x/100 Cross multiply the numerators & denominators to get 103x = 7700 then divide both sides of the equation by 103 to solve for x. 103x/103 = x & 7700/103 = 74.76 So x = 74.76

    • Andrew Kerr

      Yep, this is pretty basic math at the end of the day.

      Honestly, it was kind of surreal having to type this article out. We shouldn’t have to be explaining middle-school math to a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checker.