Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Political Sites for Skeptics

I'm not going to delve too far into political issues with this blog. But since skepticism is a big part of what I write about here, I thought I'd take a few minutes to present some of the online resources I would recommend for skeptics to use when following politics.

If verifying political claims is your goal, both PolitiFact and FactCheck are invaluable resources. I especially like PolitiFact for its quick Truth-O-Meter ratings. Both parties tend to champion the sites when it supports them or attack them as biased when it doesn't—in other words, politics as usual. I won't claim that these sources are "true neutral," as that's difficult if not impossible to come by, but if they have a secret plot to further one side over the other, they've done a great job hiding it. Unfortunately, the sites are far from comprehensive. Apparently thorough, balanced reporting actually takes some time and effort—who knew?

As far as political discussion forums go... well, there's a subreddit for everything these days. I generally steer clear of the hard-left sensationalism of r/politics, in favor of smaller and more thought-provoking places like r/2012elections, r/PoliticalDiscussion, r/ModeratePolitics and r/NeutralPolitics. The first is highly topical, while the second is an open space for talking about every political idea under the sun. Even if you're not a moderate, chances are you'll still enjoy the latter two, as the focus is on civil discussion instead of creating an echo chamber. I like to view these four in unison as a single multireddit.

Want predictions and polling numbers? RealClearPolitics does a decent job of compiling the national figures, but FiveThirtyEight is the best source for polling data and data-driven political analysis I've found. It's run by Nate Silver, a professional statistician with an amazing track record of correct election predictions—49 of 50 states in the 2008 elections, for example. His model for predicting the 2012 outcome pulls in (among other things) virtually every state poll in the country and even corrects for systemic biases (e.g. registered versus likely voters). And his daily blog posts probe the nuances of political science in a completely detached, non-partisan tone. If you want to know who's going to without all the wishful thinking and daily gossip, this is your place.

Finally, I'll end with a decidedly partisan source: RightWingWatch. While there are unquestionably plenty of fringe wingnuts on the left (and let me know if you know of any reputable sites that compile madness on that side of the aisle), I'm including this one mainly due to its exemplary coverage of the extreme religious right. There are people in relatively influential positions who say things which are absolutely bonkers, but would fly under everyone's radar if RWW didn't cover it. They'll have a sensationalized headline now and then, but on the whole their reporting is an accurate portrayal of just how radical the fundamentalist faction of politics can be.

Being a skeptic with regard to the supernatural is relatively straightforward—it's just a matter of waiting until some phenomenon with sufficient evidence comes along. With politics it's a lot harder. To take a proactive stance on positions that have real impacts on millions of people is no small task—especially when the few objective facts available, are massaged and twisted beyond recognition. It's such a vicious and insular culture that keeping up can be exhausting, but with the help of these resources, I can at least be confident that I'm not completely in the dark.

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