One of the most disturbing tactics of “fact checkers” is claiming they can fact-check the future. Predictions are not facts. We decried this in 1992, when the networks claimed it was “WRONG” (on screen, even) that Bill Clinton would pass the largest tax increase in history if elected. Who turned out to be “wrong”? The “fact checkers.”
A lot of our news today is based on educated guesses. That’s going to be part of the news, and that’s the kind of information that provides the basis for our public policies. But we shouldn’t confuse guesses with facts.
Our friend Mark Hemingway (@Heminator) pointed out this Associated Press “fact check” from March 24 by Lauran Neergaard, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, and Hope Yen:
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is making a baseless claim of surging suicides if the U.S. economy remains mostly shut due to the spread of the coronavirus. There's no evidence that suicides will rise dramatically, let alone surpass potential coronavirus deaths. Historically in a crisis, suicides tend to diminish as society pulls together in a common purpose.
In a virtual town hall on Fox News, the president guessed we'll have "suicides by the thousands." It sound more dubious when he guesses it could out-pace the coronavirus death count. Team AP marshaled its expert and described guesses as The Facts:
THE FACTS: There's no evidence that suicides will rise dramatically if nationwide social-distancing guidelines that have closed many businesses and are expected to trigger a spike in unemployment stay in place.
“It is not a foregone conclusion that we will see increased suicide rates,” said Dr. Christine Moutier of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Hemingway posed that aggressive argument next to an April 3 Reuters dispatch by M.B. Pell and Benjamin Lesser which offered an opposing expert view, that there IS indeed evidence tying increased suicide to increased joblessness:
During the last recession, from 2007-2009, the bleak job market helped spike suicide rates in the United States and Europe, claiming the lives of 10,000 more people than prior to the downturn. This time, such effects could be even deeper in the weeks, months and years ahead…
A surge in unemployment to 20% – a forecast now common in Western economies – could cause an additional 20,000 suicides in Europe and the United States among those out of work or entering a near-empty job market….
In Europe and the United States, suicide rates rise about 1% for every one percentage point increase in unemployment, according to research published by lead author Aaron Reeves from Oxford University. During the last recession, when the unemployment in the United States peaked at 10%, the suicide rate jumped, resulting in 4,750 more deaths. If the unemployment rate increases to 20%, the toll could well rise.
“Sadly, I think there is a good chance we could see twice as many suicides over the next 24 months than we saw during the early part of the last recession,” Reeves told Reuters. That would be about 20,000 additional dead by suicide in the United States and Europe.
We don't know what "the facts" will turn out to be in the future. But we judged the AP analysis to be Fully Fake, because it's the future! You can debate what may happen, but don't plant a Fact flag on it.
NewsBusters has rated this AP fact check as "Fully Fake." For more, visit our Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers page.