Wednesday, June 14, 2006

FEMA fraud story - which headline is not like the others?

Today The Union ran an AP wire story(links)* by Larry Margasak. Other news outlets have bestowed various titles on this piece; from the list below, can you pick out the one that's not like the others?(*):
$1.4 billion in FEMA aid went to bogus victims
1.4 billion fraud in Katrina pay outs
Audit Shows FEMA Funds Spent On Divorce, Sex Change
Billions feared stolen from hurricane relief
Bogus aid payouts latest FEMA snafu
Bogus hurricane aid hit $1.4 billion, GAO says
Bogus hurricane victims defraud US of $1.4B
Disaster aid spent on porn
FEMA cards bought diamonds, erotica
FEMA funds spent on divorce, sex change
FEMA Gets Hoodwinked
FEMA Hurricane Assistance Spent On Bogus Items
FEMA hurricane cards bought jewelry, erotica
FEMA relief rife with abuse, fraud, report says
Fraudulent Katrina and Rita Claims Top $1 Billion
GAO finds mismanagement of hurricane aid
Government reports fraudulent FEMA hurricane handouts
Government wrongly paid for tickets, a divorce lawyer, vacations
House to see records of FEMA defrauding
Hurricane assistance paid for tickets, divorce lawyer, vacations
Hurricane assistance spent on vacations, football tickets, sex
Hurricane fraud tab could hit $1.4 billion
Hurricane ripoffs cost $1.4B
Hurricanes unleashed flood of FEMA scams
Investigators uncover fraud in Katrina cleanup
Katrina aid improperly spent
Katrina fraud cost up to $1.4 billion
More Than $1 Billion In FEMA Hurricane Aid Spent On Diamonds
Much hurricane aid paid out improperly
Post-hurricane fleecers had $1.4 billion field day
Probe finds FEMA paid bogus claims
Probe: FEMA Defrauded
Report Details How Government Was Hoodwinked After Katrina, Rita
Some Funds By FEMA Spent On Bogus Items
Some storm aid went for sports tickets, divorce lawyer, vacations
Sports Tickets, Trips on Katrina's Tab
Study Finds Huge Fraud in the Wake of Hurricanes
The Fate of FEMA


well?


Did you pick "The Fate of FEMA" too?



actually that's the title Fox News gave it.
(and "Katrina aid improperly spent" was from China Daily)



Ready for The Union's headline?


[photo of FEMA fraud article as printed in The Union]


Yes, "Katrina money may have gone to wrong places"* - overshadowed by the truly important news, "Bush makes visit to Iraq".



what I would give, to know who directs the slant at that paper...


Now there is an alternative hypothesis, namely that it's an artifact of selective perception - perhaps The Union runs all their AP headlines through the blander, and I'm only noticing the colorless heds on those articles which report malfeasance by the fellows now in power in Washington.
This seems unlikely, but it's not impossible. So here's a challenge, to Russ Steele or other local conservative-tending reader(s) with a bit of free time and a passion for inquiry - if you can turn up corresponding example(s) of a wire service story whose headline The Union rewrote to give it a less anti-left tone than the original, from today back to, say, Jan. 1, I'll buy you coffee and a bagel, and bestow upon you all the fame and glory that my weblog has to offer.

13 comments:

Russ Steele said...

Anna:

Wish I had time to do the research, but I do not. I do watch Fox News, they try to give both sides. I challenged the Union on some of the AP stories they put on the fornt page, stories had be discredited by the blogopshere with in minutes of AP publication. The one I recall is Bill Clinton's heart attack, and Republicans clapping and hooting, as reported by the AP. It did not happen. Yet story appeared in The Union. Another bogus story from Denver, forgot the contents by the AP. If a story is written by the AP, I do not waste time reading it. You never know what is the truth, or not, if it comes from the AP.

Russ Steele said...

Should have read "has been discredited"

Bruce said...

Russ, how can you, with a straight face, say that fox even "trys" to give both sides? You must mean both "Right" sides: spin and lies.

Anna said...

OK, so a "sorry, no help here" from Russ. (along with much detail/bait, which Bruce rose to...)

The nice thing about a straight headline-comparison study would be that it's not subjective and can't be spun, either deliberately or by one's inherent human nature/bias ("science is what we do to keep from fooling ourselves" said Feynman; same practices should be used in journalism, said Philip Meyer: "Scientific method was developed to protect human investigators from the unconscious tricks of self-deception that afflict us all. Its procedures of peer review, replicability, and falsifiable hypotheses protect journalists as well").

So I'm still hoping that someone from the right is interested/motivated enough to take an active role in this method of inquiry.

Anna said...

Also, a question for Russ - re your respect for Fox News, and your frequent citing of Tech Central Station articles (TCS is published by a lobbying firm) and research/articles from other industry-funded sources, and saying you don't waste time reading stories from the Associated Press -
A year ago in blog comments (here) you said (I've added bolding)
"please do not fall into the trap of attacking the scientist, when their science challenges cherished points of view. If you can prove their science wrong with data, OK. Just attacking the person and the funding shows how weak your argument is. Data is true regardless of sides, regardless of where the funding comes from, government, environmentalist, or industry."

This sounded to me like you were saying that we (nonexperts) should not assign differential value to information based on the credibility of its source; that instead, we should treat the info equally no matter what source it came from.

Russ, did I understand your writing correctly, and do you consider this approach ("evaluate the data, not its source") to be the way we citizens should go about forming our views on issues?

Russ Steele said...

Anna:

When I suggest that citizens look at the source data, I was think about science reports. We often read an AP story, or a mass media interpretation of a science discovery published in a journal. The headline is often written to scare the reader in to reading the story. But, when reading the journal or the report, you find the AP reporter or video producer only read the abstract. They did not read the about the levels of uncertainty, the additional research needed, or that this experiments had not been audited, or verified through replication. Or, they just left out some key facts, which might cast doubt on the scary headline.

This was certainly true in the UN IPCC Climate Change reports. When your read the details in the guts of the reports, you find a huge amount of caution and uncertainty expressed by the climate scientist. But, politicians wrote the summaries for decision makers and the press, not the scientist who did the studies. The same level of uncertainty in the detailed reports is not expressed in the summaries. In fact caution often turns to promotion in the summaries. Now we find that may of the peer reviewed climate studies in the IPCC reports cannot be replicated. Many (not all) that have been replicated, exhibit a lack of statistics skill, cherry picking data, and faulty logical analysis. So, it is important to look under the hood before buying an AP story. Read the source journal, examine the data, does it make sense?

Anna said...

Russ, that's an awful lot of work. If citizens did what you recommend, do you think their views would end up being more aligned with the scientists', or less?
(I ask since I believe that, empirically, the approach citizens should take in evaluating evidence is the one that _does_ most closely align their views to those of the experts.)

(yes, this is a trick question, given that the scientific consensus is that global warming exists and the human contribution to it needs to be throttled down ASAP, whereas your view and the industry-funded PR outlets' consensus are the opposite.)

(btw, in this month's Scientific American, former 'human-caused global warming skeptic' Michael Schermer reports that he's now a believer.)

Russ Steele said...

Anna:

Consensus is a social and political term, it does not belong in science. Think about this from Terence Corcoran, Financial Post

Climate consensus and the end of science
 
000

If science were to become a belief system, then the belief with the greatest number of followers would become established fact and received knowledge. Knowledge based on observation and rational inference would play second fiddle to what Barnes calls "customarily accepted belief." This belief is "sustained by consensus and authority."
This is not just one science writer proposing a theory. Barnes is reporting on the mainstream elements of new science thought over more than a century. Ideas come from such well-known brand names such as Marx and Kant, but mostly from a procession of philosophers even most scientists have never heard of. It's a jungle, to be sure, filled with impenetrable language and philosophical jargon. But the trend is clear.
Global warming science by consensus, with appeals to United Nations panels and other agencies as authorities, is the apotheosis of the century-long crusade to overthrow the foundations of modern science and replace them with collectivist social theories of science. "Where a specific body of knowledge is recognized and accepted by a body of scientists, there would seem to be a need to regard that acceptance as a matter of contingent fact," writes Barnes. This means that knowledge is "undetermined by experience." It takes us "away from an individualistic rationalist account of evaluation towards a collectivist conventionalist account."

In short, under the new authoritarian science based on consensus, science doesn't matter much any more. If one scientist's 1,000-year chart showing rising global temperatures is based on bad data, it doesn't matter because we still otherwise have a consensus. If a polar bear expert says polar bears appear to be thriving, thus disproving a popular climate theory, the expert and his numbers are dismissed as being outside the consensus. If studies show solar fluctuations rather than carbon emissions may be causing climate change, these are damned as relics of the old scientific method. If ice caps are not all melting, with some even getting larger, the evidence is ridiculed and condemned. We have a consensus, and this contradictory science is just noise from the skeptical fringe.
Jasper McKee, professor of physics at the University of Manitoba and editor of Physics in Canada, asked recently: "Is scientific fact no longer necessary?" Apparently it's not. "In the absence of hard scientific fact or causal relationships, a majority vote of scientists can determine scientific truth."

000

Anna said...

> under the new authoritarian science based on consensus, science doesn't matter much any more

Ouch.
:-}
What I don't see mentioned in the above piece is that the _scientists_ aren't forming their _own_ views based on voting or authoritarianism; they analyze and weigh the evidence, and base their judgement on that. No it's not perfect, it's just the best system we have.


Russ, 3 questions:

1. (rephrased from above; I didn't see an answer in your comment)
If citizens did what you recommend, do you think their views would end up being more aligned with those of the scientists in the field, or less?

2. Do you _really_ believe that you and the PR outlets are better equipped to analyze the data than the scientists who are trained to do it as a career?

(to use an analogy - the consensus among biologists is that evolution did and does occur; do you find that statistical fact unimportant as well?
Aside: Nice roundup of links to evidence for evolution here.)

And for the heck of it, one more question -

3. How is the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (website, blog), whose Board of Directors consists of you, George Rebane, and Michael McDaniel - funded?
(I realize you probably don't think this is important; but I'd much appreciate it if you could share the info anyway)

Russ Steele said...

Anna:

My answers follow your questions:

1. (rephrased from above; I didn't see an answer in your comment)
If citizens did what you recommend, do you think their views would end up being more aligned with those of the scientists in the field, or less?

I think it is important that citizens take the time to read what the scientist really said, especially when the science is being used to establish polices that have a long term impact on our economy. We should not rely on the press reports, as the reporters only read the summary and lack the required BS detector. The UN IPCC summary reports were written by politicians not the scientists. The fact that many of the peer reviewed studies in the report have failed the replication test, making them of questionable value. Replication is a key tenet of valid science. Yet these reports are being used to establish policy. They should pass and audit before being used to establish policy. The hockey stick has failed the audit!

2. Do you _really_ believe that you and the PR outlets are better equipped to analyze the data than the scientists who are trained to do it as a career?

Look, when I post a link to TCS Daily for god shakes click on the bio and you will find out the writers is often a scientist or expert in their field. They often reference their work so you can do some fact checking on your own. Just because it is on a site sponsored by a PR firm does not make it bad science. It is an opinion by an expert in the field. When people cannot answer the question, they attack the person asking the question or making the statement, rather than come up with a better answer or better information. How much science training does it take to recognize bad logic, fraudulent procedures, cherry picking the data and data omissions. True, it may take some knowledge of statistics to detect math errors.

(to use an analogy - the consensus among biologists is that evolution did and does occur; do you find that statistical fact unimportant as well?
Aside: Nice roundup of links to evidence for evolution here.)

I am cool with evolution, as I am with panspermia. Right now an open mind is the best solution.

And for the heck of it, one more question -

3. How is the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (website, blog), whose Board of Directors consists of you, George Rebane, and Michael McDaniel - funded?
(I realize you probably don't think this is important; but I'd much appreciate it if you could share the info anyway)

Public Contributions! Send a check to the post office box on the web site.

Anna said...

Russ, thanks for taking the time to write in response to my questions.

I still don't see an answer to my question #1.

I didn't phrase #2 very well, but your response did bring this to mind:

You're frequently criticizing those who "cherry pick" the data, but you don't seem to have any problem with getting a hefty chunk of your worldview from a "site sponsored by a PR firm"; I think you're overlooking the fact that a PR firm's job is to cherry-pick the data AND the writers - it's their mandate. So you can cut out a huge source of avoidable error, if you avoid PR-funded or PR-published research.


Question #3 is being elevated to a separate post.

And bonus links, via Pam at Xark, the National Academy of Sciences and their March 2006 report on Understanding and Responding to Climate Change (PDF)

Russ Steele said...

Anna:
Re question #1. I am not looking for alingment, I looking for citizens to find the truth and act accordingly. Research both sides and then make up their own mind. So much of what we read in the press is crap. I am most familiar with global warming issues, but find it is happening in other research areas as well. More repoters are science dunces and influenced by their biases. You are great at following the money, it should be evident that if we found out for sure that the sun is causing the majority of global warming, then the CO2 reduction industry would collapse, carbon trading market would die a and university AGW research funding would dry up. There are billions to be made in promoting AGW. None, if it is the sun! Think!

Anna said...

> Re question #1. I am not looking for alingment...

My question was a "yes or no" question about process, not a "what are you looking for" question.

Russ, it's starting to feel like engaging with you on these issues isn't moving understanding forward - I ask you a question, repeatedly, and in response you repeatedly address a related issue but not the question I asked.

And I'm still hoping you or George Rebane or Michael McDaniel will answer my questions about who is funding the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation.


and in closing, for the record - the just-released National Academy of Sciences report on global warming is all over the news today; from Drum- "In news that will surprise no one except the president of the United States, it turns out that global warming is real".
And human-caused.