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Front Page Open thread links to this rant by John Cole on Balloon Juice:

What is so frustrating about it all is how do you fight someone who rejects reality? How do you have a sensible policy debate with people who reject basic facts? It’s like trying to debate members of a cargo cult- the modern GOP carry the crosses but have no idea what it means to be christian. They talk about free markets, but have no understanding of economics. Just say deregulate and tax cuts a lot, and MAGIC WILL HAPPEN. Evolution? LIES! Climate change? LIES! Modern Medicine and vaccines? LIES! KEEP GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY MEDICARE! That scooter just magically showed up from the scooter store, like a coca cola bottle from heaven!

The cargo cult analogy is closer than many of us are comfortable admitting, and our media has decided to just cover their eyes and pretend that it’s just two sides of the same coin. It’s crazy.

For those unfamiliar with esoteric religions, the cargo cultists are members of a primitive society who come in contact with a much wealthier one, and come to believe that by appropriate magic and / or ritual they can attract the wealthy people's bounty. From wiki:

Cargo cult activity in the Pacific region increased significantly during and immediately after World War II, when the residents of these regions observed the Japanese and American combatants bringing in large amounts of material. When the war ended, the military bases closed and the flow of goods and materials ceased. In an attempt to attract further deliveries of goods, followers of the cults engaged in ritualistic practices such as building crude imitation landing strips, aircraft and radio equipment, and mimicking the behaviour that they had observed of the military personnel operating them.

In 2011 America, the cultists practice the ritual of voting for Republicans who will cut taxes on the wealthy, thereby attracting the wealthy back to their state or nation to distribute their cargo. Cultists (like not-Joe the non-plumber) believe that soon they, too, will be wealthy.

Along these same lines, Nate Silver does some statistical analysis on Polifact's ratings of the GOP debates, and produces two graphics which are below the Orange Squiggle of Power.


For comparison, here is the same analysis for Barack Obama.

Nate notes the important fact that Politifact only rates selected comments, and therefore there is "selection bias"; a candidate saying there are 50 states in the United States is not going to be challenged (except by pedants who note there are actually 4 Commonwealths and 46 states).

If you look at the GOP front runners - Romney, Perry, Bachmann, Paul - only Ron Paul manages to avoid "pants on fire" at least 10% of the time. Now recall Politifact's definition of pants on fire:

Pants on Fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Whereas merely false leaves out the "ridiculous claim" portion. So false is flat-out wrong whereas "pants on fire" is flat-out wrong and an insult to your intelligence, too.

So I'm going to invent the aardvark Mendacity Index of Politifact's ratings. Receive
-6 points for "pants on fire" (double for insulting the listener)
-3 points for "false"
-2 points for "mostly false"
-1 points for "half true"
0 points for "mostly true"
1 point for "true".
Clearly, this scale punishes falsehood more than it rewards truth, because dammit, I expect truth!
Using the percentages, I obtain the following scores

Candidate Mendacity Index # ratings
Obama -76 320
Paul -72 21
Romney -119 64
Perry -184 83
Bachmann -303 36
That is, except for Ron Paul, whose opinions on the gold standard and so on are not scorable by Politifact, all GOP candidates are playing fast and loose with the truth, and Perry has a real problem in this regard.  Bachmann doesn't because no one expects her to make sense after the "Gardasil causes mental retardation" fiasco. That's almost "I can see Russia from my house", except she really said it, not Tina Fay.

Why do these people sound crazy? Because they lie. If you know the truth, a liar sounds crazy. If, however, you have no idea what the truth is ...

10:24 AM PT: A different scoring method which takes into account that telling the truth to American voters can be hazardous to your (re)election.

Using the percentages, again, and assigning points as follows:
Pants on fire = -10 because this is not just a mistake but shows real contempt for truth
False = -5
Mostly false = -3
half true / mostly true = 0 (this is perhaps the best that can be done given constraints of time, media spin, etc)
true = +5

I now obtain:

Candidate Mendacity Index # ratings
Obama -4 320
Paul +10 21
Romney -73 64
Perry -212 83
Bachmann -465 36
It's still Ron Paul and Obama in a statistical dead heat, with Perry clearly trailing Romney and Bachmann clearly trailing Satan.

What is the most surprising result in this data?

24%33 votes
14%20 votes
7%10 votes
43%60 votes
10%14 votes

| 137 votes | Vote | Results

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