Thoughts and Prayers and NRA Funding

Since the New York Times seems to specialize in bemused puff-piece profiles of nazis these days, it always surprises me when it gets its head out of its butt and does actual data-driven reporting, like this incredibly long calendar-based infographic full of un-checked checkboxes:

What Congress Has Accomplished Since the Sandy Hook Massacre:

More than five years have passed since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed. In that time, dozens of gun control proposals have been introduced in Congress attempting to fix glaring issues with gun safety and regulation. More than 1,600 mass shootings have taken place in America since then.

Here is a guide to what Congress has -- or, more accurately, has not -- accomplished during this time.

Or this, from a few months ago:

Thoughts and Prayers and NRA Funding:

Most Americans support stronger gun laws -- laws that would reduce deaths. But Republicans in Congress stand in the way. [...] Below are the top 10 career recipients of N.R.A. funding -- through donations or spending to benefit the candidate -- among both current House and Senate members, along with their statements about the Las Vegas massacre. These representatives have a lot to say about it. All the while, they refuse to do anything to avoid the next massacre.

  1. John McCain, Ariz. -- "Cindy & I are praying for the victims of the terrible #LasVegasShooting & their families." $7,740,521

  2. Richard Burr, N.C. -- "My heart is with the people of Las Vegas and their first responders today. This morning's tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America." $6,986,620

  3. Roy Blunt, Mo. -- "Saddened by the tragic loss of life in #LasVegas. My thoughts are with all of the families affected by this horrific attack." $4,551,146

  4. Thom Tillis, N.C. -- "Susan and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of the victims of this horrific and senseless tragedy in Las Vegas." $4,418,012

  5. Cory Gardner, Co. -- "My family and I are praying for the families of those injured and killed in Las Vegas last night." $3,879,064

  6. Marco Rubio, Fla. -- "I'm praying for all the victims, their families, and our first responders in the #LasVegas #MandalayBay shooting." $3,303,355

  7. Joni Ernst, Iowa -- "My prayers are with all of the victims in Las Vegas, and their loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence." $3,124,273

  8. Rob Portman, Ohio -- "Jane & I mourn the loss of innocent lives in this horrific attack in Las Vegas last night. We are praying for those taken from us, their families & all those injured in this attack." $3,061,941

  9. Todd Young, Ind. -- "We must offer our full support to the victims and their families as our nation mourns." $2,896,732

  10. Bill Cassidy, La. -- "Following closely the horrendous act of violence in Las Vegas. Our prayers are with those who were injured, killed and their families." $2,861,047

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14 Responses:

  1. I think this is the first data visualization I’ve ever seen that provides a legend for data which do not appear in the visualization.

    In general I’d say that you should treat their reporting with skepticism, numbers or no. Throwing a bunch of digits onto a page is not the same as analyzing data, and the Times is especially bad about this.

    • Margaret says:

      Do you have real information that their data is incorrect or you just want to sow FUD?

      • Channing Moore says:

        I have no intention of sowing FUD here. I read the Times, I subscribe to the Times, and I regard it as being a fairly reliable news sources. I have plenty of issues with the Times: I think they're too eager to please the government; relatively uncritical of business, especially the financial industry; and sometimes prioritize metrics over truth. But on the whole they are better than most.

        What I was commenting on here, specifically, is that I find the to be incurious generally and often very bad with numbers. This bugs me particularly because I work with and present data, and they routinely make errors that are covered in any introductory course on statistics or data visualization. I'll give you two examples of things that bothered me on that account:

        1. What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer This article starts with one of the most useless plots I've ever seen: the plot total guns vs. total mass shootings for several countries. Of course the U.S. is an outlier, because we have lots of guns and we have lots of mass shootings. But on this chart the U.S. is an outlier in large part because we're the third most populous country. The plot is literally uninterpretable—unless you count drawing the wrong conclusion as a win—but it's what you get when you share the story on social media.

        Further down, they have plot normalized to population. It's terrifying; by their accounting we're in #2 in a three-way race for mass shootings with Yemen and Afghanistan, both of which are currently embroiled in bloody civil wars. That's a much saner presentation.

        2. Public Housing Nationwide May Be Subject to Smoking Ban This is an example of using numbers in reporting that bugs me. It bugged me enough that I still remember the article years later. It looks to me like the reporter just crammed some statistics in without asking some very simple (stats 101, sociology 101) questions. FTA:

        Smoking rates in the city have been declining, dropping to 13.9 percent of adults last year from 16.1 in 2013, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The figure stood at 21.5 percent in 2002 [b]ut disparities in smoking prevalence persist by education and income levels, health officials say, with higher rates among those having less than a college education and those from lower-income households.

        So, do fewer New Yorkers smoke today because individual residents quit smoking? Or did the rate drop because wealthier residents who don't smoke less displaced less-wealthy smokers? That's a relevant question to ask in an article about public housing.

      • Channing Moore says:

        Also I think of the Times as the people who fired Nate Silver because he

        ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it…

        Silver isn't a hero. But he did a great job of demonstrating how useless it is to report on individual polls, and as their Public Editor made clear in the above-referenced comment, that was the Times' specialty.

    • MattyJ says:

      Try as I might, I don't see how there was any analysis intended for the infographic. Just a timeline of inaction put up against the number of mass shootings per month.

      If you're amused by the legend of data that is not in the infographic, you entirely missed the point of putting that legend in there. Yikes.

      • Channing Moore says:

        I think that the presentation gets their point across, that congress has done nothing. I was amused because the technique is unorthodox. Unlike my criticism above, I think that they did a good job telling the story here. Though there aren't any numbers involved.

  2. E M Strand says:

    All these "prayers" and "praying". Must be the buzzword of the day. Maybe they should try actually doing something instead of all this phony "praying" (to what, I wonder?)

    • k3ninho says:

      The number beside their names is how much mammon their prayers accrued.


  3. Zippington T. Whatsis says:

    Not that I think these layabouts should get any more of our filthy ducats, but, the amounts that are gifted by the NRA seem smallish. I'd imagine a GoFundMe or something like that could generate enough to out-gift the NRA and get these idlers to do something against against gun violence because they got bigger donations from fans of gun regulation.

    • Ham Monger says:

      And yet so few people do that, myself included.

      I recently saw a TV show where the lead, and by extension, the writers, asserted that local (state level) politicians could be "influenced" (i.e., bought) for $1,000. Although that number sounds small, I bet it's correct. (Okay, I haven't bet $1,000 on it, but I consider it in advance of the next time I have a grand that I don't want any more.)

      Federal level politicians probably cost more than $1K, but I thought those prices above were surprisingly high, even for the top 10 recipients.

    • margaret says:

      The money to the candidate's war chest is the part of the iceberg we can see. Below the water is connections to power and an immense and effective publicity/social media network.

      Some ideas on how to help reduce the effectiveness of the NRA-Arms Dealers-Coalition of Ghouls blood money network:

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