National Pundit Parachutes Into Detroit To Regurgitate Debunked 50 Percent Illiteracy Rate

Illustration for article titled National Pundit Parachutes Into Detroit To Regurgitate Debunked 50 Percent Illiteracy Rate

Nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas — the guy who once argued that no new mosques should be built in Western countries — decided it was his turn to offer some redundant and insipid national perspective on Detroit's current fiscal fiasco.


The piece in question appears in World magazine, which says in its 'About Us' section that those representing the publication do like sex (!), but, only within marriage. Thomas opines that the cause of Detroit's tumble is simply that the Democratic Party has reigned the city for years.

Amid his hullabaloo, Thomas adds this golden nugget:

In 2009, Time magazine reported [Detroit's] functional literacy rate was near 50 percent ...


Shocked? I know, I know. OK, I'll give you a moment.

(While you're catching your breath, here we see The Washington Examiner running the piece as well.)

Here's the problem: Time goofed. Big time. You wouldn't even know Time goofed based on the article that's linked in Cal's piece. Go ahead, take a look. It says nothing about a functional literacy rate. Here is the piece I assume Cal wanted. Always glad to help.

Moving on. It seemed like this was taken care of ages ago, but let's give it another whirl because Cal here found it necessary to speak of again.


Larry Gabriel, writing for Metro Times last year, dives into the disconcerting statistic with Danny Devries of Data Driven Detroit, who actually took the time to examine the veracity of the finding.

Gabriel cites an email response from Devries who says he looked at the methodology of the study after appearing on a local talk radio show where a caller mentioned the fact:

"There was too much extrapolation to determine a specific rate for Detroit based on a national survey from 1993 of 26,000 people


Dissecting the origin of this statistic is more about the poor data literacy of some of our news agencies than it is about Detroit's literacy rates," wrote Devries. "Many of them referred to the report as a 'new study,' missing the important detail that the research is far from new. The 47 percent Detroit literacy rate is the result of a 1998 analysis by the National Institute for Literacy, performed on data from the National Adult Literacy Survey, published in 1993.


Still with me? Yeah, that figure Cal cites is based on data now two decades old. Pretty neat, hm?

(Devries goes into this further on the Data Driven Detroit blog.)

Devries amazingly discovered something in the methodology of that 1998 National Institute for Literacy analysis I'm sure even our bud Cal would be surprised by. Devries writes that at the end of Apendix A of the analysis, it says:

“There is no direct evidence available about the validity of the model’s predictions for the congressional district or city/town/place Census areas,” e.g. the city of Detroit.



Illiteracy is nothing to crack a joke about. Resurfacing some shoddy reporting that was thoroughly debunked, though, is a joke. A big joke.


It's even more of a joke when you take a look at Devries blog post to see how many news outlets, on the left and right, reported the statistic. Except, that occurred almost two years ago.

Cal's column ran this week.

Journalism moves at a frenetic pace today. Reporters make mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes like some we've seen in the last year with outlets re-reporting facts as big stories unfold in the moment (e.g., the media initially getting the name of the Newtown shooter wrong).


But, by arriving to the party two years late, seemingly in an effort to portray Detroit as bleak as he possibly could, Cal's egregious goof only makes him out to be a jackass.

So, on behalf of every reporter that needed a friendly reminder this week to fact check before reporting whatever "alarming" bullshit they stumble upon, I say this: Thanks, Cal Thomas. You are incredible at your job.


[World] [Metro Times]

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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