Thursday, September 17, 2009

Size Matters; So Do Lies

I’m stealing this title from Nate Silver’s laughable post at FiveThirtyEight.com.

Basically, Nate goes on a tirade about “a real whopper”. A “lie” told about the size of the “not particularly large rally”.

Now, I want to say that Nate does a lot of poll analysis and number crunching on his site. And it’s first rate. Possibly the best analysis of such that you can find on the web.

His other posts and posts by other authors on the site are generally not worth the time it takes to read them, but I’m sure some think the same of my posts as well.

But here he discards his usual numerical analysis and speculates on the size of the crowd.

But yesterday, someone told a real whopper. ABC News, citing the DC fire department, reported that between 60,000 and 70,000 people had attended the tea party rally at the Capitol. By the time this figure reached Michelle Malkin, however, it had been blown up to 2,000,000. There is a big difference, obviously, between 70,000 and 2,000,000. That's not a twofold or threefold exaggeration -- it's roughly a thirtyfold exaggeration.
The way this false estimate came into being is relatively simple: Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, lied, claiming that ABC News had reported numbers of between 1.0 and 1.5 million when they never did anything of the sort. A few tweets later, the numbers had been exaggerated still further to 2 million. Kibbe wasn't "in error", as Malkin gently puts it. He lied. He did the equivalent of telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.
Malkin, who to her credit later corrected the error, frets that it might be used to by liberals to "discredit the undeniably massive turnout". She's right to be worried -- it absolutely will be used that way. If you don't want to be discredited, then don't, as Kibbe did, tell a ridiculous (and easily disprovable) lie.

Here’s the problem. There’s actually two points of contention here. Did ABC actually say 2 million? And what was the real size? Nate claims that Kibbe told a ridiculous and easily disprovable lie. Nate’s trying to make you think he’s lying about the size, when all he “lied” about was where he got the information. Bad form, Nate.

But he does make a rather ridiculous claim.

The reason is that if there had in fact been 2 million protesters in Washington yesterday, there would have been no need to lie about it -- the magnitude of the protests would have been self-evident. I was in Washington for the inauguration, an event at which there really were almost 2 million people present -- and let me tell you, it was a Holy Mess

Self-evident. This is a code phrase in an argument. I’ve been a victim of using it myself. When someone uses it, it means that they actually don’t have any evidence for their claim and expect you to take it on faith.

Instead, Nate continues to repeat the real lie here, ABC’s. The claim that there were only 60-70,000 people there.

This was not a small rally. It was also not, in comparison with something like the 2006 pro-immigration protests, a particularly large rally. It was a business-as-usual sort of rally. Mock the protesters at your peril: business as usual suddenly isn't so good for Democrats these days, and the sentiments of the 70,000 people who marched on Washington surely mirror those of millions more sitting at home. They were done a disservice by being represented by a liar like Kibbe.

Since Nate couldn’t be bothered to do the numerical analysis that’s made him so famous, other people have picked up the baton.

Here’s a few links for you, Nate.

More 9/12 Crowd Data: Yeah, It Was Big

  • The estimate widely used in the legacy media is not from an authoritative source, and it isn’t even consistent with itself: “full back to 3rd Street” is around 250,000 by Park Sevice methods, not a quarter of that.
  • Many estimates, using different assumptions and different methods, arrived at numbers well into the hundreds of thousands.
  • This is clearly consistent with the panoramic photo that we can source reliably.
  • With everything above, and with several more estimates, I don’t think there is a plausible argument for any total attendance figure much less that 500,000 to 600,000. That is, nearly ten times the reported attendance.

Here’s a link to the photo that Charles mentions.

March on Washington: How Big Was the Crowd?

Just for comparison, we’ve got the Obama inauguration, which was originally estimated at 2 million and then revised down to about 850,000. Popular Science got GeoEye to take a satellite photo.

Oops. Nate lied about the size of the inaugural crowd too, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

How many people were at the big 9/12 “Tea Party” protest? [UPDATED]

Still, even at our worst case of 522,000 souls, that's way bigger than what was reported

An Impression Of The Protest

I think it’s already very clear, however, that “hundreds of thousands” is the correct description of the size of the 9/12/09 DC protest.

9/12 March Crowd Size

So, my specific answer is 350,000. However, I believe the precise number is somewhat unimportant - what is important is the truthful and accurate reporting; it is clear to me that the real count is "hundreds of thousands". I do not see how any responsible reporter could suggest that there were only "tens of thousands" at the event - let alone the "thousands" that the NYT and AP had in their headlines.

Note that his estimate is the lowest of any I’ve seen, so he blasts the people saying 1.5 to 2 million as well:

Perhaps these people just made a mistake - they heard one person cite a number and then it got mistranslated and misattributed, etc. but if that is the case, they should recognize the problem now and issue a correction and an apology. Being off by 10, 20, even 50% is one thing, but it appears that both the media and FreedomWorks were off by 4-5 fold. That is simply irresponsible reporting.

The Real Number of Protesters - Zac Moilanen

With that, we get 1,782,760 estimated protestors marched in the 9-12 Project.

In conclusion, this number surprised me. I knew there were a lot of people, but researching this, looking at the map, and actually crunching the numbers, it makes sense. I’m not sure all of these marchers stayed at the Capitol, the field surrounding it, or even the mall. But that’s not what we have aerial footage of. Because of this time-lapse street cam, it’s easy to see that in the course of around two hours almost two million people marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building.

Now, most of these links are people who support the movement, and they have reason to be optimistic in their calculations. However, you can find some libs out there too, and even they come up with around 250,000, and they have reason to be pessimistic in their calculations.

My speculation after reading all of the above (and I could do some math too, but I’m too lazy) is that it’s between 500,000 and about 1.2 million. Probably closer to the high side than the low side.

Now let’s go back to that final quote from Nate:

This was not a small rally. It was also not, in comparison with something like the 2006 pro-immigration protests, a particularly large rally. It was a business-as-usual sort of rally. Mock the protesters at your peril: business as usual suddenly isn't so good for Democrats these days, and the sentiments of the 70,000 people who marched on Washington surely mirror those of millions more sitting at home. They were done a disservice by being represented by a liar like Kibbe.

Nate, you’re flat wrong. I won’t call you a liar, even though your own lie is easily disprovable, and Kibbe’s numbers aren’t nearly as wrong as yours. In fact, some people have come up with numbers very similar to this man you repeatedly called a liar.

You owe him an apology and your readers a better post.

1 comment:

aria said...

I did my own calculation and estimated somewhere between 130k and 160k. You can find my study here. I still don't see how people are baselessly throwing numbers around without actually providing a concrete evidence to their conjecture. Read my post and if you see a deviation, please do let me know.

New And Noteworthy

What’s Going On?

Well, I really have missed doing my September 11 timeline. My daughters have asked about that, and I want them to understand it a little bet...

All The Best