FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Mon, 27 Apr 2015 19:30:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2 Another Webby Win for FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/another-webby-win-for-factcheck-org/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/another-webby-win-for-factcheck-org/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 17:11:27 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94656 FactCheck.org has been awarded the 2015 Webby for best Political Blog/Website by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. And thanks to our amazing readers, we also won the People’s Voice Webby in the same category.

Combo_Winner1This is the second consecutive year that FactCheck.org has won both awards, which honor the best of the Internet. We are now a six-time winner of the judge’s Webby award and an eight-time winner of the People’s Voice award as voted by the public.

The other finalists for best Political Blog/Website were Politico, New Zealand-based On the Fence, the Rolling Stone feature “America’s Gun Violence Epidemic,” and past winner Truthdig.

Winners will be honored at the 19th Annual Webby Awards on May 18 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The event will be available for viewing the following day on www.webbyawards.com.

As always, we would like to thank the academy and our loyal followers for this honor.







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Clinton on Global Domestic Violence Laws http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/clinton-on-global-domestic-violence-laws/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/clinton-on-global-domestic-violence-laws/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 19:51:12 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94617 Hillary Clinton repeatedly has said “more than half the nations in the world” have no laws on domestic violence. That’s wrong. The United Nations reports that 125 countries — two-thirds of all nations — had such laws on the books as of April 2011.

Clinton, who has made women’s rights a central theme of her nascent presidential campaign, gave her first speech as a presidential candidate at the Women in the World Summit on April 23.

She talked about the progress women have made in recent decades, citing improvements in Tanzania, Nepal and Rwanda. “There has never been a better time in history to be born female,” she said.

Clinton, April 23: But the data leads to a second conclusion that despite all this progress we’re just not there yet. … Yes, we have increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence. But still more than half the nations in the world have no such laws on the books.

Clinton made a similar statement at the U.N. Conference on Women last month — this time placing “the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence” at 76.

Clinton, March 10: We’re not there yet when despite having increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence from just 13 in 1995 up to 76 today, more than half the nations in the world still have no laws on the books.

That’s not accurate. UN Women, the United Nations entity that advocates for “gender equality and the empowerment of women,” produced a report titled “2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice” that says there has been “significant progress on legal reform in favour of women’s rights in the past 30 years.”

Specifically, the UN report said 125 of 194 countries, or 64 percent, had domestic violence laws as of April 2011. (The State Department, which Clinton once headed, recognizes 195 countries.)

UN Women, 2011: Even within one generation we have witnessed a transformation in women’s legal rights, which means that today, 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, 115 guarantee equal property rights and women’s voice in decision-making is stronger than ever before.

So nearly two thirds of all countries had domestic violence laws in place as of April 2011.

We forwarded a copy of the U.N. report to the Clinton campaign and asked for data to support the candidate’s claim that “more than half” of all nations do not have laws prohibiting domestic violence.

Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman, told us the candidate “may have been referring to marital rape or sexual assault.” Merrill said a World Bank study “says that 62 of 100 surveyed countries have not specifically criminalized rape and sexual assault within marriage.” That’s also inaccurate.

A World Bank report called “Women, Business and the Law 2014” found that 76 of 100 economies that it studied had domestic violence laws – up from just three in 1989. (We note that the 76 figure in the report is the same number used by Clinton in her U.N. speech last month.) The World Bank report also found that 57 of 100 economies it studied had laws explicitly covering “sexual violence” within a marriage — which would include laws explicitly prohibiting marital rape or sexual assault.

The World Bank report was not comprehensive, since it reviewed domestic violence laws in only 100 countries.

The UN Women report, which covered 194 countries, also looked at the issue of marital rape. That report said “at least 52 States had explicitly outlawed marital rape in their criminal codes.” The report used the term “at least” because there was unreliable or conflicting information in 14 nations, including in Belgium, Austria, Finland, and Switzerland.

That means at least 128 of the 194 countries — more than half — did not have laws that explicitly outlaw martial rape as of April 2011, according to the U.N. But the U.N. also noted that not having laws that explicitly prohibit marital rape does not necessarily mean that a husband cannot be prosecuted for raping a spouse.

The UN Women report says “general rape laws (except where exemption of a spouse is explicitly stated) do not preclude a spouse from being prosecuted.” The report added, “Explicit criminalization of marital rape is recommended as best practice by, among others, the Council of Europe.”

Clinton’s larger point — that there is still more work to be done on domestic violence — is well taken. But it’s simply inaccurate to say “the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence” is just 76 or that “more than half the nations in the world” have no domestic violence laws.

— Eugene Kiely

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Is Marijuana Really a ‘Gateway Drug’? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/is-marijuana-really-a-gateway-drug/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/is-marijuana-really-a-gateway-drug/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 21:07:20 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94456 Chris Christie said that marijuana is a “gateway drug” while arguing for enforcement of its federal status as an illegal substance. Though there are correlations between marijuana use and other drugs, there is no conclusive evidence that one actually causes the other. The science on this topic is far from settled.

In an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on April 14, Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said he would crack down on marijuana sales and use in Washington and Colorado, which in 2012 were the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. “Marijuana is a gateway drug,” Christie said. “We have an enormous addiction problem in this country.”

SciCHECKinsertThe “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads users to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

Though studies of large populations of people have indeed found that those who smoke marijuana are more likely to use other drugs, these studies show a correlation without showing causation — a commonly misunderstood phenomenon in science. In short, just because marijuana smokers might be more likely to later use, say, cocaine, does not imply that using marijuana causes one to use cocaine.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, laid out this issue clearly (see pages 100-101): “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation into the use of other illicit drugs, it is indeed a gateway drug. However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.”

We spoke with several experts and reviewed the available scientific literature on gateway theory. Christie’s definitive statement is unsupported by evidence — there is some evidence in favor of a gateway effect, but the scientific community shares no consensus on the issue and there is little evidence on the underlying cause of that effect.

Biological Mechanisms

Importantly, there are two distinct ways in which marijuana or other drugs might act as a gateway: biological or pharmacological reasons why marijuana would lead to other drugs (sometimes known as the “stepping stone” theory); and social or cultural reasons for the jump from one drug to another. In the case of the first idea, some research has found plausible biological ways in which marijuana — and, notably, nicotine and alcohol — could “prime” the brain and make one more likely to abuse other drugs, but this research is largely in rats and is not conclusive.

“There are some studies that have been done in animals and they suggest that there may be changes that marijuana produces in the brain that can be long lasting when the animal is exposed to it as an adolescent,” said Susan Weiss, the associate director for scientific affairs at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, in a phone call.

For example, in one study published in 2007 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers treated some adolescent rats with THC, the main active compound in marijuana. The rats were then given the opportunity to “self-administer” heroin as adults. The THC-treated rats consistently increased their heroin usage, while those rats that had not been treated with THC maintained a steady level of heroin intake.

Another study, published in 2014 in European Neuropsychopharmacology, similarly found that adolescent THC exposure in rats seemed to change the rodents’ brains. The rats treated with THC exhibited more anxiety-like behaviors, and also exhibited more “heroin-seeking” behavior later in life. The authors concluded that, at least in rats, chronic exposure to THC during adolescence could indeed be responsible for “increased vulnerability to drug relapse in adulthood.” Another rat study, from Biological Psychiatry in 2004, also found that THC exposure induced “cross-tolerance” that could increase later usage of cocaine, morphine, and amphetamine.

Notably though, these findings are not unique to marijuana. Weiss told us that nicotine and alcohol, two other drugs that are widely available to young people and are often among the first drugs used, have been found to have similar effects in animal studies. One such study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine in 2011, showed that treating mice with nicotine induced genetic changes that increased the response to cocaine. Interestingly, this only worked in one direction, when the mice were treated with nicotine and then co-treated with both nicotine and cocaine; if cocaine was administered first, the effect was not seen, suggesting there may be a gateway effect from nicotine to cocaine.

The studies on brain chemistry and the influence of marijuana on responses to other drugs only has taken place in those animal studies, meaning extrapolation to humans is problematic. We do have some hints of biological gateway effects in humans, though, from studies involving twins.

One such study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003, and involved 311 twin pairs “discordant” for early marijuana use — that is, one of each set of twins had used marijuana before the age of 17, and the other had not. The twin that did use marijuana early in life had between a 2.1- and 5.2-times higher risk of other drug use, alcohol dependence, and drug abuse/dependence than their sibling. This means that associations between marijuana use and later drug use can’t be explained by genetic factors, and gives support to the gateway theory.

But even this leaves a lot of unanswered questions, according to Weiss. “Did marijuana change that twin and make them more likely to use other drugs? What was it about that one twin that made them use marijuana while the other twin didn’t? We don’t know the answer to that. Did he happen to have friends that were more deviant? It’s very difficult to completely interpret these things; most likely there is probably some convergence of factors.”

And indeed, a subsequent twin study published in Development and Psychopathology in 2008 called the results of the first into question. The paper found a similar difference between twins with regard to early marijuana use and later drug use, but only in non-identical twins. To the authors, this supported the idea that there are too many factors to conclude in one direction or the other: “[T]he longitudinal pattern of drug use that has been interpreted as the ‘gateway effect’ might be better conceptualized as a genetically influenced developmental trajectory.”

Hidden Causes and International Patterns

Clearly, the biological evidence for a gateway effect is varied and difficult to interpret. Unfortunately, specific evidence for the other possible mechanisms are also far from clear and definitive.

The cultural and social version of the gateway theory posits that simply by being around marijuana and the people who use it one might be more likely to end up trying and using other drugs as well. There is also the idea that an individual who uses marijuana habitually may simply be more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, and thus will seek out the other drugs. This would suggest there is no causal link from marijuana to other drugs, it is only a function of marijuana’s general availability versus other more difficult-to-obtain substances.

Some researchers, though, think there is almost certainly a causal link — it’s just not clear what it is. David Fergusson is a professor at the University of Otago in Christchurch, New Zealand, and he has been leading the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 35-year, ongoing look at 1,265 New Zealanders born in 1977. Several papers on drug use and the gateway effect have emerged from this study.

“There is a very strong association between the use of cannabis in adolescence and subsequent use of other illicit drugs,” Fergusson told us in an email. He said that one analysis from his study published in the journal Addiction used a statistical test that “clearly suggest the existence of some kind of causative association in which the use of cannabis increases the likelihood that the user will go on to use other illicit drugs. … Where things get murky is in the area of the nature of the causal processes.”

Another possible contributor to those processes is simply the availability of a given drug that might lead it to be used first, rather than any particular biological reason for moving from one to another. A large international collaboration produced a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2010 that looked at patterns of drug use across 17 countries. The study found that “[w]ith few exceptions, substances earlier in the ‘gateway’ sequence predicted drug use later in the sequence.” That finding, though, differed in strength across countries.

Those early-sequence drugs included marijuana, alcohol, or nicotine. Different countries had different patterns of drug use in general, and also different patterns of gateway “violations” — that is, when people used other illicit drugs without ever trying those early drugs. For example, Japan had very low rates of marijuana use (1.6 percent by age 29), and also had more people use other illicit drugs before the early-use drugs than in other countries. The authors wrote, “a lack of exposure and/or access to substances earlier in the normative sequence did not correspond to reductions in overall levels of other illicit drug use.” In other words: limiting access to marijuana might not have any effect on heroin and cocaine use.

That study also provides a hint that marijuana’s illegal status may contribute to its gateway effects. The mechanism here is simple: accessing one illegal drug simply means a marijuana user would be more likely to have access to other illegal drugs, through social interactions and the act of actually buying the drug. The Drug and Alcohol Dependence study found that marijuana use was less strongly associated with other illicit drug use in the Netherlands, where marijuana can legally be purchased in so-called coffee shops, than in other countries including the United States.

A working report from the Rand Drug Policy Research Center looked at the Dutch experience with legalized marijuana as well. According to that paper, the U.S. actually has slightly higher rates of use than the Netherlands, and there is evidence for a “weakened gateway” in the Netherlands: about 15 of every 100 cannabis users have tried cocaine in that country, a lower rate than others where marijuana is illegal such as Scotland, Italy, and Norway. The same is true for amphetamine use.

Fergusson told us that more research is still needed to truly understand what the causal link between marijuana and other drugs might be. “It is my view that when the jury comes in, what will be found is a complex multivariate situation in which the greater susceptibility of cannabis to illicit drug use is the end point of a complex mix of factors including: the neurophysiological effects of cannabis; social and peer influences; and the legal status of cannabis,” he said.

Weiss, of NIDA, said that scientifically a gateway effect cannot be ruled out, but a conclusive “yes” is also not possible at this point. “The scientific community is still arguing about it,” she told us. “It really is a complicated thing to tease out. It has been very contentious over the years. And I don’t know how useful it is as a concept, but it’s something that people latch on to.”

Christie is entitled to his opinions on the legality of marijuana and the statutes in Washington and Colorado, and he is right that marijuana use “typically precedes” the use of other illegal drugs, as the Institute of Medicine report said. But there is no firm ground to stand on when making claims of the drug’s gateway effect.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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Fact-Checking Is More Popular than Politicians http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/fact-checking-is-more-popular-than-politicians/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/fact-checking-is-more-popular-than-politicians/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:34:38 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94520 New research shows that the public views political fact-checking journalism — the sort of thing we do here — far more favorably than it does most politicians.

Fact-checking is also a measurably effective tool for correcting political misinformation regardless of whether or not a ratings scale is used, the research shows. Fact-checking increases the audiences’ political knowledge, and it is growing at a dramatic rate.

But the research also shows Republicans view it less favorably than do Democrats. And it found that, overall, those with less education and knowledge viewed fact-checking less favorably than did those with more education and knowledge.

The new findings come from three studies, conducted by scholars at six universities, which were published today by the “Fact-Checking Project” of the American Press Institute, the nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational affiliate of the Newspaper Association of America.

84 Percent Favorability

One of the studies said, “More than eight in ten Americans (84%) say they have a favorable view of fact-checking, including 36% who say they have a ‘very favorable’ view.” That came from a paper co-authored by Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, and Jason Reifler, a political scientist at the University of Exeter in England.

Furthermore, the study reported that the more people know about fact-checking the more they like it. The study found fact-checking is viewed favorably by 94 percent of polling respondents who said they were familiar with it, and by 73 percent who said they weren’t familiar with it.

That’s far higher than the ratings the public gives to its political leaders. President Obama, for example, currently averages only a 48 percent favorable rating in polls from 68 different polling organizations tracked by the Huffington Post “Pollster” website.

Other well-known politicians do no better. The Pollster national averages are 23 percent for House Speaker John Boehner, 22 percent for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 29 percent for Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi and 22 percent for Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid.

The highest favorable ratings for any of the leading presidential prospects are 48 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton, and 35 percent for Republican Sen. Rand Paul.

‘Strikingly’ Effective at Informing

The same study also found that fact-checking is effective at increasing the audiences’ knowledge. During the weeks leading up to the 2014 elections, the authors exposed one group of randomly selected subjects to actual articles from our friends at PolitiFact.com, while another group was given “placebo” news releases on non-political subjects, such as one on coverage of New York Bridal Fashion Week by TheKnot.com.

Weeks later, after the election, members of  both groups were asked a series of questions to test their political knowledge. Those who had read the PolitiFact articles did significantly better (25 percent correct answers) than those who had not (16 percent correct answers).

“Considering the difficulty of the questions we administered and the delay between viewing the fact-checks and being asked questions about them, these findings are strikingly large,” the authors wrote.

‘Partisan Divide’

The authors also found that fact-checking is “viewed more favorably by Democrats than Republicans, particularly among those with high political knowledge at the conclusion of a political campaign.”

The authors also found that “people who are less informed, educated, and politically knowledgeable have less positive views of the [fact-checking] format.”

Both findings were what the researchers had expected to find. They cited a general distrust of “liberal media” among those who identify themselves as conservatives or Republicans, for example.

But they concluded that “Fact-checkers need to determine how to better attract interest from less knowledgeable and informed voters,” and also how to “minimize the partisan divide on the merits of fact-checking, which could undermine the perceived neutrality of the format and the credibility of its practitioners’ conclusions.”

 Rapid Growth

A second study found that fact-checking stories increased by 300 percent in the four years between the 2008 presidential election year and 2012.

The stories counted included actual fact-checks, and other reports that cited the results of fact-checks. That study was co-authored by Lucas Graves, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and by Nyhan and Reifler.

“Though dedicated, full-time fact checkers remain relatively rare, almost every major national newsroom has embraced the genre in some way,” the authors wrote. And besides those national news outlets, “scores of smaller news outlets at the state and local level offer fact-checks during elections or around major political events like the State of the Union Address.”

The authors concluded that “the fact-checking movement in journalism has much potential yet to be realized” despite its recent surge in growth. And to that end, their study further probed how even more news organizations might be persuaded to undertake fact-checking.

Their conclusion: Just stressing its popularity with readers and viewers is less effective than appealing to journalists’ sense of professionalism. “While audience demand is an important part of the business case for the practice, newsrooms appear to respond most to messages emphasizing how fact-checking is consistent with the best practices and highest aspirations of their field,” the authors stated.

To Rate, Or Not To Rate?

A third study examined a question often discussed in the fact-checking community: Is it more effective to use a rigid rating scale such as PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter or the Washington Post Fact Checker’s “Pinocchio” awards, or to dissect political statements in the way we at FactCheck.org do, relying only on written analysis without such a rating scale?

The conclusion: “[B]oth formats proved equally effective in challenging political misinformation.” But this study also found that when given a choice, 56 percent of readers said they preferred to see articles that include a rating scale.

(Sorry, readers, we won’t be adopting a rating scale. We consider them inherently subjective, and find that many political claims don’t fit neatly into inflexible categories. For more, see our 2012 article, “Firefighters, Fact-Checking and American Journalism.“)

This third study was conducted by Michelle A. Amazeen, an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing, Advertising and Legal Studies at Rider University, with Graves, Emily Thorson of George Washington University, and Ashley Muddiman of the University of Wyoming.

— Brooks Jackson

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Chris Christie Spins Economic Data http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/chris-christie-spins-economic-data/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/chris-christie-spins-economic-data/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 15:47:06 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94465 New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a couple of economic claims at a recent forum in New Hampshire that may seem startling at first — until placed into context:

  • Christie said it is “outrageous” that there have been “some months” during the Obama administration “where more people have gone on to Social Security Disability than have gotten a job.” But that’s true of every administration since 1986, which is as far back as disability data are available online.
  • He also said New Jersey went “an entire decade without job growth,” from 2000 to 2009, before he became governor. But New Jersey gained 130,700 jobs from January 2000 to January 2008 before the Great Recession wiped out those gains. The same was true for the U.S., which had a net job loss of 1.3 million during that 10-year span.

U.S. Jobs

Christie made his remarks April 17 at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit, a two-day event that was attended by many of the party’s declared and potential presidential candidates. He spoke briefly about his plan to rein in the costs of what he called “entitlement programs,” including Social Security, and then took questions. At one point, he was asked what he would do to prevent Social Security Disability from going bankrupt.

The Social Security trustees estimate that the disability trust fund reserves will be depleted by late 2016. “Lawmakers need to act soon to avoid automatic reductions in payments to DI [disability insurance] beneficiaries in late 2016,” the trustees said in a 2014 annual report. Christie blamed President Obama for the fund’s financial problems.

Christie, April 17: There have been some months in this administration where more people have gone on to Social Security disability than have gotten a job. That’s outrageous. And that’s why the system is near bankruptcy.

Christie is right that there have been “some months in this administration” when more people have gone on disability than have gotten jobs. That was the case in 19 of 74 months, from February 2009 to March 2015, based on a comparison of Bureau of Labor Statistics data on monthly net employment change and Social Security Administration data on monthly disability awards. (BLS bases its job figures on a monthly survey covering the week that contains the 12th day. Obama did not take office until Jan. 20, 2009, so we start our jobs count for the president with the monthly data for February 2009.)

The last month that more people went on disability than got jobs happened nearly three years ago in June 2012, when the U.S. added only 35,000 jobs and 84,766 were approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

So, Christie is not wrong. But he singles out “this administration,” as he refers to the Obama administration, when actually the same thing can be said of every president since 1986, which is as far back as the monthly disability data are available online.

disability_awards_employment_changeIt is particularly true of administrations that have governed during a recession when monthly job losses or weak job gains were the norm. That would include not only Obama, but Presidents George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

In fact, under George W. Bush, who was president during two recessions, the number of people who went on Social Security Disability outpaced the number of people who got jobs in 52 of the 96 months — more than double the rate of Obama. During George H.W. Bush’s one term in office it happened in 21 of 48 months.

Both Obama and George W. Bush inherited recessions, but Bush also left office during a recession, which explains the high number of months during his administration when disability approvals outstripped job gains.

In fact, the number of people who went on disability during the Bush administration far exceeded the number of people who got jobs. That’s the only time that that has happened during the last five administrations.

Under Bush, there were 1,281,000 total non-farm jobs added, from February 2001 to January 2009, or 13,000 per month. But 6,400,157 people were awarded disability during that time – an average of 66,668 people per month. By contrast, there were 7.2 million total non-farm jobs created under Obama, from February 2009 to March 2015, an average of 97,000 jobs per month. During that same time, there were nearly 5.9 million people awarded disability for an average of 79,158 per month.

Christie has a point about the need to shore up the disability trust fund, but he misled his audience by saying there have been “some months in this administration” when there have been more people going on disability than getting jobs. That can even be said of President Clinton, who presided during a time of economic expansion.

As we have pointed out before, the economy added 22.9 million jobs when Clinton was president. Even so, there were eight months under Clinton when more people went on disability than got a job.

New Jersey Jobs

Another member of the audience asked Christie about his state’s lackluster job growth rate, which as we have written has badly trailed the rest of the country during the Christie administration.

The governor responded by blaming previous Democratic legislatures for raising taxes and stunting growth before he became governor in January 2010. “We had had an entire decade of the 2000s without any job growth,” Christie said, referring to the period from 2000 through 2009.

There were job gains in New Jersey, but they were wiped out during the recession, as the BLS chart below shows. In January 2000, New Jersey had 3,961,500 jobs, and the number of jobs peaked during that time in January 2008 at 4,092,200 — an increase of 130,700 jobs or 3.3 percent. By January 2009, the number of total jobs had fallen to 3,956,800 – a decline of 135,400 jobs in just one year. By the time Christie took office on Jan. 19, 2010, the number of jobs in New Jersey was at 3,853,400.

New Jersey employment

New Jersey was not alone, of course, in losing jobs during a 10-year span that included not one but two recessions — from March 2001 to November 2001 and again from December 2007 to June 2009, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The U.S. lost more than 1.3 million jobs during that time, dropping from 131,009,000 jobs in January 2000 to 129,685,000 in December 2009, according to the BLS.

And two of Christie’s potential presidential primary opponents — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — can also say that their states went the “entire decade of the 2000s without any job growth.” From January 2000 to December 2009, Wisconsin had a net loss of 102,300 jobs and Louisiana had a net loss of 35,100 jobs.

As we’ve seen with both of Christie’s claims, context matters.

— Eugene Kiely, with D’Angelo Gore



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Gender Pay Gap in Clinton’s Senate Office? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/gender-pay-gap-in-clintons-senate-office/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/gender-pay-gap-in-clintons-senate-office/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 13:01:58 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94379 The Republican National Committee chairman says Hillary Clinton paid women in her Senate office less than men. But annual salary data provided by the Clinton campaign show median salaries for men and women in Clinton’s office were virtually identical.

What gives? The answer may be unsatisfying, but it boils down to methodology.

RNC chairman Reince Priebus based his claim on a report by the Washington Free Beacon of publicly available expense reports submitted biannually to the secretary of the Senate. Looking at median salaries among full-time, year-round employees, the Free Beacon concluded that women working in Clinton’s Senate office were paid 72 cents for each dollar paid to men.

Pushing back against that analysis, the Clinton campaign provided FactCheck.org a list of the names, titles and annual salaries of every full-time person employed in Clinton’s Senate office between 2002 and 2008. Those data show the median salary for men and women to be the same at $40,000. The data also show Clinton hired roughly twice as many women as men.

The Clinton list of salaries included full-time workers who may have worked only part of the year, or who took brief unpaid leaves of absence. The Free Beacon list excluded anyone who did not work for an entire fiscal year. Left off the Free Beacon list, for example, was a male assistant to the chief of staff earning a salary of $35,000, because he took a two-week unpaid leave of absence to work on a House campaign.

“There are many different ways to measure these things and you will get slightly different answers,” Eileen Patten, a research analyst at the Pew Research Center told us in a phone interview. “It’s not that either data set is flawed. They just show different things.”

American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein, who regularly sifts through disbursement reports from the secretary of the Senate while doing research for the annual Vital Statistics on Congress report, said the data are difficult to use to track salaries because Senate staffers often toggle between Senate and campaign work. That churn was particularly true on Clinton’s staff, he said, because she was running for president in 2007 and 2008. For that reason, he believes the Clinton campaign methodology provides a more accurate measure of her record on pay equity.

We take no position on which may be the superior methodology — as Patten told us, both have benefits and tradeoffs. But we think it’s instructive to consider those benefits and tradeoffs.

Pay in Clinton’s Senate office figures to be an issue because Clinton has made pay inequality, and gender discrimination, a focus of her campaign for president.

Priebus’ Attack

On the day Clinton formally announced her candidacy for president, Priebus went on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and attacked Clinton on one of her signature causes — equal pay for women — claiming that she paid women in her office less than men.

“[She] can’t have it both ways,” Priebus said. “She can’t pay women less in her Senate office and claim that she is for equal pay.”

“We don’t know she did that,” host Bob Schieffer interrupted.

Said Priebus: “Well, the facts don’t bear that out, the facts show that she didn’t pay women an equal amount of money in her Senate office.”

As we said, Priebus’ claim is based on an analysis by the Washington Free Beacon, which concluded that women in Clinton’s Senate office were paid 72 cents for each dollar paid to men. Using publicly available disbursement reports, the Free Beacon based its conclusion on the median salary for men and women — regardless of position — among employees who worked full-time for an entire fiscal year from 2002 to 2008.

“Salaries of employees who were not part of Clinton’s office for a full fiscal year were not included,” the Free Beacon report states.

Using that methodology, the Free Beacon found the median annual salary for women working in Clinton’s office was $40,791, and it was $56,500 for men. The Free Beacon reporter who prepared the report, Brent Scher, declined to provide us with the raw data from his analysis to compare with the data from the Clinton campaign. But he said the Free Beacon stands by its report and its methodology, and his methodology was transparent enough to see how he arrived at his numbers.

The Clinton campaign doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the Free Beacon data, but it argues the data and methodology lead to a misleading conclusion.

“The Free Beacon based their analysis off an incomplete, and therefore inaccurate set of numbers,” said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. “The fact is, Hillary paid full-time men and women equally.”

Schwerin provided FactCheck.org a list of the name, gender, title and annual salary of every full-time person employed in Clinton’s Senate office between 2002 and 2008. Notably, the Clinton campaign’s figures show the annual salaries of employees regardless of how long they worked in any given year. So if a woman was hired at an annual salary of $50,000 but only worked part of the year (and therefore earned some fraction of that $50,000), the Clinton data would include that salary in the women’s salary column. The Free Beacon report would not have included that employee at all. The Clinton campaign data also include employees who may have taken a brief leave of absence (sometimes to work for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign). Because they did not work the entire fiscal year, they were not included in the Free Beacon report.

Taking out Hillary Clinton’s salary — we didn’t think it was fair to include her since she didn’t hire herself — the median annual salary for both men and women, regardless of how much of the year they worked, was identical: $40,000.

(We spot checked dozens of the salaries provided by the Clinton campaign against the expense reports filed with the secretary of the Senate. Direct comparisons were not possible because the Clinton salary data was based on calendar years, while the public disbursement records are based on fiscal years. The annual salary numbers also do not take into consideration any bonuses an employee might have earned. But pro-rated for the amount of the year worked by the employee, the figures we checked generally matched up.)

The 77-Cent Figure

The Free Beacon notes that its methodology more closely mirrors the methodology used by the Census Bureau to arrive at the oft-cited statistic that women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in the U.S. Like the Free Beacon, the Census Bureau only considered full time, year-round employees. And so, the Free Beacon argues, Clinton leaves herself vulnerable to this kind of attack because she has, in the past, repeatedly cited that same 77-cent figure.

For example, on Clinton’s Senate Web page just before she left the Senate (accessed via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine), it stated, “More than forty years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President Kennedy, women still earn only $.76 cents for every dollar men earn for doing the same work.”

More recently, Clinton tweeted this last year:

@HillaryClinton, April 8, 2014: 20 years ago, women made 72 cents on the dollar to men. Today it’s still just 77 cents. More work to do.  #EqualPay #NoCeilings

We at FactCheck.org have been critical of this statistic in the past when it is portrayed as the pay disparity “for doing the same work.” That’s not what it represents.

As we noted when Obama cited the statistic in a campaign ad, the Census Bureau figure is the median (midpoint) for all women in all jobs, not for women doing “the same work” or even necessarily working the same number of hours as men. In fact, women on average work fewer hours than men and are generally under-represented in jobs that pay more. In other words, it is inaccurate to blame the entirety of that wage gap on discrimination against women doing the same jobs as men for the same number of hours. Furthermore, the raw gap for all women is not quite as large when looking at weekly earnings rather than yearly earnings.

The Pew Research Center, for example, did estimates based on hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers and found that women earn 84 percent of what men earn. Why? According to Pew’s surveys, women were more likely to take career interruptions to care for their family, which can hurt long-term earnings. In addition, Pew noted, “women as a whole continue to work in lower-paying occupations than men do.” And last, Pew noted “some part of the pay gap may also be due to gender discrimination.” Women were nearly twice as likely as men to report that they had been discriminated against at work because of their gender.

In a recent speech at the United Nations Conference on Women on March 10, Clinton did not cite the 77-cent figure, and she noted that in addition to fighting for equal pay for equal work, closing the pay gap will require “encouraging more women to pursue [higher-paying] careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics” (about the 11:35 mark).

But the Clinton campaign isn’t arguing that the Free Beacon report is skewed because it is not a comparison of similar-level positions. It says the data show there was no pay disparity in Clinton’s office when looking at the median salaries of men and women regardless of job title. For that reason, we would caution that neither methodology — neither the Free Beacon‘s nor the Clinton campaign’s — purports to compare the salaries of men and women who were doing the same jobs.

Using the salary data supplied by the Clinton campaign, we looked at median and average salaries for men and women in Clinton’s office year by year and found relatively minor differences. In five out of the seven years, the median salaries were slightly lower for women without Clinton’s salary included. But when all the years were combined, the median salary was $40,000 for both groups. The average salary — again, taking out Clinton’s salary — was nearly identical, $50,398 for men and $49,336 for women. And again, Clinton hired nearly twice as many women as men.

So what accounts for the difference between the two sets of findings? Is it just because one includes employees who worked only part of the year (or had a leave of absence)? The example of 2008 is instructive.

According to the 2008 salaries provided by the Clinton campaign — which, again, includes anyone who even worked part of the year —  the median salary for women was $39,500, while the median for men was $43,000. That works out roughly to women making 92 cents for every dollar earned by men. (In other years, it was the opposite — but as we noted earlier, the median for all seven years combined showed median salaries to be the same.)

We then compared the annual salary data provided by the Clinton campaign with disbursement data available from the secretary of the Senate for fiscal year 2008 (Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008). That doesn’t perfectly match up with the Clinton campaign’s calendar year figures, but it’s close.

Of the 44 women listed in the annual salary data provided by the campaign, 26 of them worked only a portion of the year. And 10 of 24 men worked only part of the year. That means they either started or ended their employment sometime during the fiscal year, or, as was often the case, they took unpaid leaves of absence at some point during the fiscal year. Those would be the people not included in the Free Beacon analysis.  If those part-year employees are excluded, the median gap widened to $42,500 for women and $59,000 for men. That translates to women earning just 72 cents for every dollar earned by men.

In other words, the Clinton campaign has a good point: Not counting those who worked only part of the year results in a wider pay gap for women in Clinton’s office.

A comparison of both data sets shows that those who only worked part of the year represent a little over half of the men and women who worked in Clinton’s Senate office that year. Among those who only worked part of the fiscal year, and would not have counted in the Free Beacon analysis, the average and median salaries were higher for women. The median annual salary for women who worked only part of the year was $38,000, compared with $35,000 for men, our analysis of the Clinton salary database showed. The Clinton campaign argues that including those who only worked part of the year makes more sense, because it shows that women and men were offered comparable salaries.

Some Examples

The Clinton campaign also argues that any analysis ought to consider the salaries paid to Senate staffers who also worked for any of Clinton’s three political entities: Hill PAC, Friends of Hillary or Hillary Clinton for President. Often, employees were splitting their time between the Senate and political entities and earning significant salaries from those campaign entities, sometimes more than their work for the Senate office.

For example, Huma Abedin, Clinton’s longtime assistant/senior adviser, was making a modest salary in Clinton’s Senate office ($14,000 in 2002 to $20,000 a year in 2008), but in the latter years of that time period, she was making significantly more money working for Clinton’s political entities (Friends of Hillary, Hill PAC and then the presidential campaign beginning in 2007). Public records filed with the Federal Election Commission show in 2008 that she was paid a total of nearly $97,000 in wages from Friends of Hillary, Hill PAC and Hillary Clinton for  President.

Another employee, Sarah Gegenheimer, was being paid a $20,000 salary as deputy communications director for Clinton’s Senate office in 2007, but she was also making $40,000 a year in the communications office of the Democratic Leadership Offices — Office of Senate Majority Leader and Office of the Democratic Whip, the Clinton campaign says. In addition, FEC records show she was paid another $24,000 in wages for work provided to Hillary Clinton for President and Friends of Hillary.

In other words, both of those employees would have been counted in the Free Beacon tally, and both were paid less than the median in Clinton’s Senate office, even though their combined salaries were much higher than the median.

On the other hand, Dan Schwerin, a system administrator/assistant to the chief of staff, was not counted in the Free Beacon report, Scher said, because disbursement records show he was not on the payroll from Nov. 2 to Nov. 15, 2007  — even though his salary for the first half of the fiscal year was $15,349 and $20,333 for the second. The Clinton campaign said Schwerin took a brief unpaid leave of absence to help out on a House campaign.

Ornstein said this kind of movement is typical in Senate offices, particularly if the senator is running for reelection or higher office. Some full-time employees are permanently on the payroll year to year, but others bounce back and forth. The better way to make pay comparisons, he said, would be to look at the annual salaries adjusted for the amount of the year someone worked.

“You have to try to compare apples to apples and that is difficult to do, but there is more sense in the way the Clinton people said to do this,” Ornstein said.

LegiStorm, a nonpartisan group that tracks congressional salaries, warns on its website that the disbursement figures in the reports filed with the secretary of the Senate do not represent annual salary figures. On its FAQ page, LegiStorm explains, “Because of fluctuations associated with things like holiday bonuses or leaves of absence to work on political campaigns, annual salaries must be calculated with great caution. Some staffers receive additional non-taxpayer-paid income for political work they perform in their free time.”

According to the Hatch Act, federal employees like those in Clinton’s Senate office are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities while they are working on government time. However, as the Congressional Research Service explains, the law allows “most federal employees to engage in a wide range of voluntary, partisan political activities on their own off-duty time and away from the federal workplace.” Indeed, as the New York Times noted in 2001, “Virtually every member of Congress enlists government employees to do some campaign work.”

As the data show, heavy turnover in the office together with movement between Senate and campaign staffs can make a big difference when comparing salaries in Clinton’s Senate office.

— Robert Farley, with Alexander Nacht


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FlackCheck Video: Marco Rubio Announcement http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/flackcheck-video-marco-rubio-announcement/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/flackcheck-video-marco-rubio-announcement/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 22:05:41 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94459 The latest “Campaign Watch” video from FlackCheck.org highlights past claims we have fact-checked from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. On April 13, Rubio became the third Republican U.S. senator to officially declare that he will run for president in 2016.

]]> http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/flackcheck-video-marco-rubio-announcement/feed/ 0 Obama and the ‘Warmest Year on Record’ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/obama-and-the-warmest-year-on-record/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/obama-and-the-warmest-year-on-record/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 22:07:25 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94414 President Barack Obama says that 2014 was “the planet’s warmest year on record.” But that’s not entirely accurate.

Several major climate monitoring organizations have found that 2014 is more likely than any other year to have been the warmest. But statistical uncertainties inherent to calculating global temperatures make the president’s definitive claim problematic.

Most recently, Obama remarked on the 2014 temperature data in his April 18 weekly address to the nation, when he said “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”


This sounds like an undisputed fact, but it is not. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency all did report that 2014 was the warmest year since record-keeping began in the late 1800s, but there are uncertainties to that finding.

For example, NOAA reported that the global average temperature for 2014 was 0.69 degrees Celsius (1.24 degrees F) above the 20th century average. This departure from the average is known as the temperature anomaly. The 2014 temperature anomaly (0.69 degrees C) ranks first among all years dating back to 1880. However, that finding has a margin of error of 0.09 degrees C — which means there is a 95 percent chance that 2014’s temperature anomaly falls between 0.60 degrees C and 0.78 degrees C.

The anomaly for both 2005 and 2010 was 0.62 degrees C. This falls inside the 0.60 to 0.78 range for 2014’s 95 percent margin of error, which means there is a chance that other years were warmer than 2014. The United Kingdom’s Met Office, which studies climate as well, found that the uncertainties did not allow 2014 to take the definitive top spot in the rankings. It said 2014 was statistically tied with 2010.

The reason for this range of uncertainty lies in the methods used to determine a global average temperature. As NOAA explains:

NOAA: Evaluating the temperature of the entire planet has an inherent level of uncertainty. The reported global value is not an exact measurement; instead it is the central value within some range of possible values. The size of this range depends on the method used to evaluate the global temperature anomaly, the number and placement of the stations used in the analysis, and so on.

These uncertainties are reflected in the NOAA/NASA presentation “Annual Global Analysis for 2014.” The agencies prepared the following chart, which shows the likelihood of certain years being the warmest since record-keeping began:


As the chart shows, NOAA found that the likelihood of 2014 being the warmest year was approximately 48 percent. NOAA considers anything between 33.3 percent and 50 percent to be “more unlikely than likely,” so 2014 was more unlikely than likely to be the warmest year on record. Between 50 percent and 66.7 percent would be deemed “more likely than not,” and 66.7 percent to 90 percent would achieve “likely” status.

Even with the “more unlikely than likely” designation, that 48 percent number means that 2014 was far more likely — more than 2.5 times as likely — than 2010 to be the warmest year ever recorded. NASA is slightly less confident, but 2014 still ranks as more likely than any other year to have had the highest global average temperature. While NOAA can only say that 2014 has a 48 percent chance of being the warmest recorded, it has far more confidence that 2014 was one of the 10 hottest on record — a 99.2 percent level of confidence, to be exact, which qualifies as “almost certain.”

Obama would be accurate if he were to say that 2014 is “probably” or “most likely” the warmest year on record. A NOAA climate scientist, Deke Arndt, told Andrew Revkin of the New York Times in January that 2014 is “easily the most likely warmest year on record.”

Arndt, Jan. 21: This may seem pedantic, but it’s an important point: there is a warmest year on record. One of the 135 years in that history is the warmest. 2014 is clearly, and by a very large margin, the most likely warmest year. Not only is its central estimate relatively distant from (warmer than) the prior record, but even accounting for known uncertainties, and their known shapes, it still emerges as easily the most likely warmest year on record.

Though the question of “warmest on record” is hotly debated, the long-term trend is more important to understanding the climate than the temperature of any given year — another point Obama made in his weekly address.

Obama, April 18: Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

That long-term data is unequivocal, and shows a significant warming trend, as NOAA’s chart below shows.

noaa temp trends

Though the president is on the right track regarding 2014’s temperatures, the addition of “most likely” to this talking point would put him on stronger ground.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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FlackCheck Video: Rand Paul Announcement http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/flackcheck-video-rand-paul-announcement/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/flackcheck-video-rand-paul-announcement/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:09:06 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94373 Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul became the second major Republican candidate to declare that he will run for president. Paul made the announcement April 7.

This “Campaign Watch” video from FactCheck.org’s sister website, FlackCheck.org, covers some claims made by Paul that we fact-checked before and after he made his announcement.

]]> http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/flackcheck-video-rand-paul-announcement/feed/ 0 Santorum and the EPA’s Mercury Rule http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/santorum-and-the-epas-mercury-rule/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/04/santorum-and-the-epas-mercury-rule/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 18:44:46 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=94273 Rick Santorum misrepresented the Environmental Protection Agency’s impact analysis of a new agency rule that would reduce power plant emissions of mercury and other toxins:

  • Santorum falsely claimed that the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis assumed hundreds of thousands of pregnant women eat six pounds of fish caught in lakes per week, potentially exposing their unborn children to high levels of mercury. Actually, the EPA assumption was far lower, about 0.1 pounds per week on average.
  • He also misstated the effects of mercury on IQ levels. He said the EPA calculates that the children of pregnant women who consume six pounds of lake fish per week would suffer a “.009 point reduction in their IQ.” That figure — .009 — is what the EPA says would be the reduction in the amount of IQ loss under one emissions-reduction scenario, not the expected IQ loss without the emissions reduction.
  • Santorum said the “direct health benefit” of lowering mercury emissions is $6 million, referring to the EPA estimate for the reduction in IQ loss. That does represent the high-end of EPA’s estimate, but he ignores the associated health benefits from reducing pollutants other than mercury. The EPA places the total benefit of the rule at between $37 billion and $90 billion per year.

What Is MATS?

The EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, was finalized in February 2012 and takes effect in April 2015. (The rule could be derailed by a Supreme Court case that is expected to be decided later this year, as we will explain later.)

The rule requires reductions in the volume of various emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants with a capacity of at least 25 megawatts; it includes mercury and other metals (arsenic, chromium and nickel), as well as “acid gases” such as hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid. Once all plants are in compliance, mercury emissions will drop under the rule by about 75 percent, from 26.6 tons to 6.6 tons per year, according to the EPA. The technology used to reduce mercury and other emissions will produce so-called “co-benefits” by reducing sulfur dioxide and PM2.5 (tiny particles under 2.5 micrometers in size) — those pollutants, however, are not covered specifically by the rule.

SciCHECKinsertThe EPA estimates that this rule will affect 1,400 individual electric generators at 600 power plants. About one quarter of the global human-caused mercury emissions come from combustion of coal; other major sources around the world include small-scale gold mining and cement production. North America as a whole accounted for only about 3.1 percent of the global emissions in 2013, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report.

Mercury can stay in the atmosphere for a year, but once it descends to ground level it can enter lakes, rivers and the ocean, where it can be converted to methylmercury. Methylmercury can “bioaccumulate,” or build up in the tissues of fish, which humans (and other animals) then eat. Small children and pregnant women are at particular risk from this buildup in fish, as it can affect development of the nervous system.

It is this benefit — reducing mercury exposure for pregnant women and unborn children — that Santorum, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, discussed in his speech at an event in Iowa called “Inside Sources Road to 2016: Informing the Energy Debate” (starting at the 55:00 mark).

Conflated Studies, Fish Consumption and the Cato Institute

Santorum argued that the cost of the EPA rule vastly outweighs the benefits, and he falsely accused the EPA of basing its cost-benefit analysis on a hypothetical population of pregnant women who eat massive amounts of fish.

Santorum, April 9: And here’s the calculation [EPA officials] made. The average woman in America consumes five ounces of ocean and lake fish a week. … This is their assumption: that pregnant women in America will consume not five ounces, but six pounds! Six pounds … that they caught themselves.

The Regulatory Impact Analysis does not make that assumption. In fact, EPA used an average consumption of 8 grams per day of fish (about 0.12 pounds per week), and included women in households where anyone engaged in fishing activity at some point in a given year. Ninety-five percent of such women consume less than 25 grams per day, or 0.39 pounds per week.

So where did his “six pounds” number come from?

A spokesman for Santorum referred us to a March 23 Wall Street Journal op-ed by attorney Brian Potts as the source of the former Pennsylvania senator’s remarks. That op-ed claims that EPA says 6 percent of all pregnant women in the U.S. — with higher numbers in certain states, such as 15 percent in Wisconsin and 21 percent in Minnesota — “subsist primarily by catching and eating as much as six pounds of lake fish a week.” Potts, the author of that article, told us that his analysis was based on a brief filed to the Supreme Court by the Cato Institute. That brief criticizes certain parts of EPA’s analysis, and in doing so inaccurately conflates two separate studies.

The first of the studies Cato cites — an EPA “Technical Support Document” on mercury risks — was used as part of the EPA’s initial “appropriate and necessary” finding that paves the way for the agency to regulate various pollutants. This document is used by the EPA to show that some group of people might suffer harm, and thus EPA should regulate the pollutant in question. The analysis focused only on “high-end” subsistence fishers as a way to show that there could be a public health hazard from mercury.

That analysis said that the top 1 percent of female subsistence fishers, or the very highest end of all consumers, would eat about six pounds of fish per week. The average consumption among all subsistence fishers in the study is 0.6 pounds per week.

The second study, the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis on the MATS rule, uses far lower numbers for fish consumption in order to estimate benefits across a much larger population (all recreational angler households). Cato cites that document in regard to the negative effects of mercury consumption — the loss of IQ points and associated income — as if it focused on the same population as the other analysis on high-end fishers.

The conflation of those two reports — one study specifically on high-end subsistence fishers with another that estimates risk across “all recreational freshwater anglers” in the contiguous U.S. — is the source of Santorum’s statements regarding fish consumption.

EPA confirmed this to us in an email, saying: “The 6 pounds of fish consumption per week is the consumption rate from the Mercury Risk Assessment, which focused on highly exposed subsistence fishers. This consumption rate was not used in the [Regulatory Impact Analysis] to estimate the benefits of the actual regulation.”

Mercury and IQ Losses

Santorum went on to discuss the potential effects of consuming mercury in fish, again focusing on the false notion that the analysis concerned high-end subsistence fisherwomen:

Santorum, April 9: So women in America, 6 percent of all women in America — they concentrated in around the Great Lakes area, so if you’re a Minnesotan woman, 21 percent of Minnesota women who are pregnant, fish for six pounds of food a week that they consume. … These fisherwomen who are out there on Lake Superior catching fish, filleting it and eating it themselves, they’re going to pass on mercury to their children. And that mercury passed on to their children will produce — ready for this? — a .009 point reduction in their IQ.

The EPA calculated how many children were exposed to mercury from fish based on the number of anglers in each state, total population of the states and numbers of pregnant women. The agency calculated that, using 2005 as its “base case,” a total of 239,174 children would be exposed prenatally. This is where Santorum’s “6 percent” number came from, as that represents approximately 6 percent of all births across the United States in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. (The same is true for his Minnesota-specific number.)

The EPA does not claim that 6 percent of all births were to women who catch six pounds of fish each week and consume it themselves. As we noted above, the consumption rates in the Regulatory Impact Analysis are actually far lower (0.12 pounds per week), and include all women who live in a household where any resident engages in fishing at least once in a year.

The source of Santorum’s mistake, again, is the Cato Institute’s conflation of two study populations. The Cato brief says: “[T]he agency estimated the number of children who would be born to the hypothetical high-end self-caught fish-consuming female populations,” and notes the EPA arrived at a total of about 240,000.

That is incorrect. The 240,000 number represents all recreational angler households, not those high-end consumers from the earlier analysis. In fact, the EPA told us that the IQ analyses in the Regulatory Impact Analysis “did not include any analysis of subsistence level consumption. In other words, for the RIA, we did not assume that any pregnant women eat 6 pounds of fish per week.”

The IQ loss Santorum cites is actually a reduction in lost IQ, not the full loss itself. (The Wall Street Journal op-ed makes the same mistake.) In other words, there will still be an IQ loss due to mercury, but it won’t be quite as large because of the reductions in mercury emissions, EPA estimates. Under one scenario, using 2005 as a “base case,” the reduction in lost IQ is indeed close to .009 points per exposed child. Santorum should actually have used an even lower number, however: The scenario that concerns implementation of the MATS rule and uses 2016 as the “base case” showed a reduction in IQ loss of .00209 points per child.

Santorum then went on to mischaracterize the effect of IQ losses and the reduced IQ losses under the MATS rule.

Santorum, April 9: EPA is saying this .009 point reduction in IQ is gonna cost them, these children, $2,000 in economic income over the course of their life, and you multiply that out, that’s $6 million. And for that, we need to spend $9.6 billion.

Santorum is correct about the $6 million figure — the EPA calculated a range for the economic value of reducing IQ loss under the MATS rule, from $500,000 to $6.1 million — though not for the reason he provides. The “$2,000 in economic income” he cites refers to an estimate in EPA’s analysis of the net loss of lifetime earnings per IQ point of $1,958.

Added up, the net losses for the 240,000 exposed children in 2016 would be between $22 million and $300 million. The MATS rule, EPA says, would reduce the IQ losses and thus cut up to $6.1 million from that total amount.

Also, it is worth noting that while the EPA found a tiny average reduction in IQ loss, it found a greater estimated reduction in certain populations.

Based on a review of other published studies of fish consumption, the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis cites certain populations of the country that consume more than the 8 grams per day national average for recreational angler households, and the associated IQ losses are far greater. For example, the mean fish consumption among low-income African American recreational or subsistence fishers in the Southeast is estimated at 171 grams per day, or about 2.6 pounds per week. None of the other high-risk groups — low-income white recreational/subsistence fishers in the Southeast, low-income female recreational/subsistence fishers, Hispanic subsistence fishers, Laotian subsistence fishers and Great Lakes tribal groups — consumed more than 1 pound per week on average.

The EPA estimates that certain African American children born in 2016 in the Southeast could experience an IQ loss as a result of mercury of 7.7 points. The MATS rule would reduce that by an average of 0.176 points, EPA says — about 84 times the benefit seen in the overall population of recreational angler households.

Costs and Benefits

More generally, Santorum implies that the EPA cost-benefit analysis shows that the $9.6 billion rule will result in only $6 million in benefits. That’s misleading.

We take no position on the legal validity or health-related necessity of the rule and the agency’s analysis of its impact. But since Santorum used EPA’s number for the cost of the rule, he should also have used its number for the benefits, which the agency says would be between $37 billion and $90 billion per year.

“They have calculated that the health benefit has to do with pregnant women and their children,” Santorum said. But that’s just part of the story.

EPA lists a wide variety of health-related benefits (see page ES-10) that the agency says will add value to the MATS rule. Many of the benefits that have been “quantified” and “monetized” are related to the associated reduction in the concentration of fine particles suspended in the air, under 2.5 micrometers in size. Reductions in premature deaths related to PM2.5 make up the bulk of the total benefits. Other listed benefits include reductions in non-fatal heart attacks, emergency room visits for asthma, lost work days and hospital admissions. EPA lists other benefits that it hasn’t monetized or quantified.

The cost-benefit analysis has been a point of contention. The rule has faced legal challenges, which reached the Supreme Court in March. A decision is expected later this year. The issue before the court is whether the EPA “unreasonably refused to consider costs” in its rule-making, and critics say the co-benefits associated with PM2.5 reductions should not be included in a cost-benefit analysis.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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