2017: The Year in Facts and Falsehoods

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APA
Agresti, J. D. (2017, December 28). 2017: The Year in Facts and Falsehoods. Retrieved from https://www.justfactsdaily.com/2017-the-year-in-facts-and-falsehoods/
MLA
Agresti, James D. “2017: The Year in Facts and Falsehoods.” Just Facts. 28 December 2017. Web. 26 April 2018.<https://www.justfactsdaily.com/2017-the-year-in-facts-and-falsehoods/>.
Chicago (for footnotes)
James D. Agresti, “2017: The Year in Facts and Falsehoods.” Just Facts. December 28, 2017. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/2017-the-year-in-facts-and-falsehoods/.
Chicago (for bibliographies)
Agresti, James D. “2017: The Year in Facts and Falsehoods.” Just Facts. December 28, 2017. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/2017-the-year-in-facts-and-falsehoods/.

By James D. Agresti
December 28, 2017

Reflecting back on 2017 and looking forward to the future when more people will know facts that allow them to make important, informed decisions, Just Facts has summarized five facts and five falsehoods that:

  • relate to events that captured the public’s attention in 2017.
  • have substantial impacts on masses of people, in contrast to the petty drama often reported in the news.
  • are untrue but were widely spread by the media, politicians, or other major public figures.

Facts

Fact #1: About 11.5% of adult females living in the U.S. state that they have been the victim of a completed forcible rape.

This figure does not include alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration. Among all female rape victims, roughly 12% were first raped before the age of 10, and 40% were first raped before the age of 18. Likewise, a 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study found that the incidence of forcible rape peaked at the ages of 14 and 15:

Fact #2: U.S. federal, state, and local governments are spending $6.3 trillion per year, or an average of $50,000 for every household in the United States. This money is distributed as follows:

  • 61% on social programs, like income security, healthcare, and education
  • 14% on debt service and general government, such as interest payments, legislator salaries, and tax collection
  • 12% on national defense and veterans’ benefits
  • 6% on public order and safety, such as police, fire, courts, prisons, and immigration enforcement
  • 5% on economic affairs, like transportation, labor affairs, agriculture, natural resources, energy, and space

Fact #3: At the current drug overdose death rate, one in every 65 people in the U.S. will die of a drug overdose.

The rate of drug overdose deaths has tripled over the past 15 years. In 2016, more than 63,600 people were killed by drug overdoses, which is 3.9 times greater than the 16,459 murders committed that year.

Fact #4: Public 4-year colleges spend an average of about $40,000 per year for every full-time student, and private non-profit colleges are spending $52,000.

College prices have been soaring for decades, but only 26% of spending by public colleges is dedicated to student instruction, as is 33% for private non-profit colleges.

Fact # 5: Based on data from more than 150 countries, people tend to migrate away from nations with worse government corruption to those with less corruption and “higher degrees of press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity for public officials, and independent judicial systems”:

With all of the debate over immigration, limited attention has been devoted to the reasons why people abandon their homelands and families to move to another nation. The same applies to pressing problems like global poverty. One of the factors that pops up in both of these cases is government corruption, which goes hand-in-hand with poverty:

Falsehoods

Falsehood #1: The severe hurricane season of 2017 was fueled by global warming.

Such claims were reported by CNN, the Washington Post, Politico, the BBC, and others, but comprehensive facts show that rainfall and hurricane activity are well within the bounds of natural variation. Furthermore, there is no cogent evidence that rainstorms or hurricanes have increased over the past century.

Falsehood #2: Donald Trump said that some of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists at the violent protest in Charlottesville were “very fine people.”

At the press conference when Trump supposedly said that, he explicitly “condemned” the white supremacists twice, said they were “very bad people,” and emphasized that he was not calling them “very fine people.” A reporter at the conference then asked Trump if the media “treated white nationalists unfairly,” and Trump responded, “No, no.”

In reality, Trump used the words “very fine people“ to describe those “protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.” Nevertheless, wide-ranging media outlets reported that Trump called the white supremacists “very fine people,” such as ABC News, Esquire, The Atlantic, the New York Times, NPR, and National Review. 

Falsehood #3: The U.S. middle class has been economically stagnant or declining for decades.

Such claims have been voiced by everyone from Elizabeth Warren and NPR to Donald Trump and PolitiFact, but they are based on incomplete measures of income. The truth is that inflation-adjusted median household income increased by $17,800 or by 29% from 1979 to 2013. After federal taxes, income increased by about $19,700 or 40% over the same period. 

Falsehood # 4: Police are more likely to use unnecessary lethal force against African Americans than other races.

This accusation has been the dominating refrain of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the NFL national anthem protests, but concrete facts show just the opposite. African Americans represent about 53% of murder offenders and 33% of people killed by police. These two facts are crucial for understanding this issue, because:

  • a 1985 Supreme Court ruling prohibits police from using deadly force unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
  • from 2006 to 2015, 65 officers were charged in fatal shootings, and only 11 were convicted.

Because the U.S. has more than 325 million people, 900,000 law enforcement officers, and 16,000 murders per year, major media outlets can mislead the public by focusing on selected events. This is exactly what they have done by devoting massive amounts of coverage to a few killings while disregarding many others.

Falsehood # 5: Scientific studies prove that more guns mean more death.

This assertion became prominent in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre—the worst mass murder in the U.S. since 9/11. A classic example is the New York Times, which ran editorials with various claims to that effect. However, every one of those claims was based on misleading or blatantly false evidence that uses bait and switch tactics, compares apples to oranges, or misrepresents association with causation.

It is extremely difficult to identify, measure, and account for all of many possible factors that impact homicide rates, but comprehensive, straightforward data suggests that private gun ownership in the U.S. saves far more lives than it costs.

Conclusion

The facts and falsehoods above show how misinformation can lead to horrible consequences, while reliable facts can empower people to make positive, life-changing decisions. Thus, when media outlets and politicians place their ideologies and agendas over the truth, they are toying with the lives of millions of people.

Given what is at stake, every person should exercise discretion in what they accept and deny in the realm of public policy. In the words of Louis Pasteur—the renowned scientist who disproved the deadly junk science of spontaneous generation—“we should be guided by facts” and avoid the “tendency to generalize by anticipation.” Knowing the widespread human weakness of confirmation bias, Pasteur wrote that “the greatest aberration of the mind is to believe a thing to be, because we desire it.”

23 thoughts on “2017: The Year in Facts and Falsehoods

  1. Thank you for stating facts that bring peace to the public plus encourages people to look beyond the headlines of liberal press.

    • Everything that’s underlined is a LINK to the facts or resources used to create each point. That’s a basic internet thing – embedded links. Try clicking on those underlined words and see what you get.

  2. For falsehood #3, what is considered stagnant. Though you point out income growth of 40% after federal taxes for the middle class, that is also over a 34 year period. When taking into account the compounding of any rate over an extended period of time, this works out to be well less than 1% per year, which is far below the rate of inflation over the same period of time. I would label such slow growth (and actually negative growth when compared to inflation) as being stagnant.

    • As the article states, this is “inflation-adjusted” income growth. In other words, it is income growth above and beyond inflation.

    • The 34 year period used is not telling the whole story as it includes rapid economic growth of the 1980’s and the 1990’s. Most folks know that the economy was booming then. What’s the situation for the past 20, 15, or 10 years? A plot would be nice.

    • The important question has NEVER been if there is climate change. We KNOW our planet’s climate is ALWAYS changing. We all know about various “ice ages” in the past, right? The only question that matters is whether or not WE are causing more of it. So far, every time evidence is brought out that supposedly supports the theory of the greenhouse gas effect, deeper analysis either shows manipulation, selective facts, or outright lying. Maybe that is why those who proport man-made climate change started using phrases like “a concensus in the scientific community” as their “proof”. Which, surprise, has also been shown to be full of manipulation and deceit. Being opinionated takes little time or effort. Being informed takes a great deal more. Unfortunately for all of us, both groups get an equal vote.

  3. Thank you for providing great, unslanted data. For Falshood #4, 65 police deaths are noted while percentages are only noted for populace deaths in their interactions with police. Is there a link showing the number of severely injured officers, as well as the actual numbers numbers of those killed or severely injured by police, to compare to the small number of police deaths (65) cited here? The emotional weight the media plays up is carried by the increasing awareness of how many people are killed and severely injured by police, comparing numbers to numbers is helpful. Perhaps how this has changed with time could be a future article if not available yet.

  4. I take issue with the phrase “junk science” in your phrase “disproved the deadly junk science of spontaneous generation”. The history of these ideas was more nuanced than this. Indeed, it was Church teaching that every living being had a parent, while it was the long held scientific consensus that spontaneous generation could occur.

  5. James, you’re my new hero. I love your work.
    In regard to the rape statistic, I do believe that drug induced rapes should be included to better reflect the incidence of rape. While alcohol is normally ingested willingly, the date rape drugs are not, and I don’t see a good reason to exclude them in the number of “forcible” rapes.

    • Michele,

      Thank you for your kind words and for bringing this matter to attention.

      Cases involving date rape drugs are considered forcible rapes for the very reason you mention: the victims do not willingly ingest the drugs.

      • We agree that the forcible rape statistic should include completed rapes that are drug-facilitated. But your figure in Fact #1 specifically, “does not include alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration.” What am I missing? Is that information unavailable?

      • Apologies, I was mistaken. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the source for this data, includes “voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs” in its definition of “alcohol or drug-facilitated penetration.” I thought that cases involving involuntary consumption of alcohol or drugs were classified as forcible rapes, because the victims did not willingly consume these substances.

        This CDC report does not have data on the prevalence of these cases, but other credible sources find they are a small portion of all alcohol or drug-facilitated rapes. In 2017, the journal Psychology, Society, & Education published a paper about these cases that found:

        • they are “a relatively rare phenomenon.”
        • “a high percentage of victims admit a voluntary previous consumption of a substance.”
        • “it should be taken into consideration that victims may interpret questions about their voluntary consumption of the substance as a questioning to their credibility.”

        None of this diminishes the horridness of rapes committed after victims voluntarily consume drugs and alcohol, but these are not classified by the CDC as forcible rapes unless “physical force or threats” are employed by the perpetrator.

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