The Washington Post seems to prove it: Has there been a big increase in apprehensions at the southern border?
Kevin Drum was trying to figure it out. Along the way, he came across the Washington Post's attempt to work with numbers.
He quoted a passage by the Post's Philip Bump. Warning! As Talking Barbie once thoughtfully said, math can be quite hard:
BUMP (6/18/18): [Secretary Nielsen] repeated a data point that she had mentioned earlier, a data point that Nielsen suggested necessitated taking a zero-tolerance approach to families arriving at the border.Except that isn't an increase of 315 percent. We'll let Drum explain:
“Again, let’s just pause to think about this statistic: 314 percent increase in adults showing up with kids that are not a family unit,” she said. “Those are traffickers, those are smugglers, that is MS-13, those are criminals, those are abusers.”
A DHS representative provided The Washington Post with the hard numbers behind Nielsen’s statistic. There were 46 cases of fraud—“individuals using minors to pose as fake family units”—in fiscal 2017, the period from October 2016 through September 2017. In the first five months of 2018, there were 191 cases.
That's an increase of 315 percent.
DRUM (6/18/18): This is kind of weird. That’s not an increase of 315 percent. On a monthly basis, which is all that matters, it’s an increase from 3.8/month to 38.2/month. That’s an increase of 905 percent...Drum continued on from there, seeking the bigger story. We decided too stop right there, to marvel at what Bump had written.
Everybody makes mistakes. But in his comparison, Bump was comparing the alleged number of apprehensions for an entire fiscal year to the alleged number of apprehensions over a recent five-month period.
No, you can't sensibly do that. Not when you're working with numbers!
Everybody makes mistakes; perhaps this remarkable groaner was just a random brain cramp. That said, we'll admit it. When we checked the text from Bump to see if Drum's account could possibly be right, this is what we were thinking:
It's impossible to get our major journalists to report essential data. They refuse to report the major gains which have occurred in Naep scores. They refuse to report the giant achievement gaps contained in those same stats.
They refuse to report the astounding statistics about the per person cost of American health care. All in all, basic data don't exist within the work of our upper-end press corps.
Basic data don't exist within the work of our press corps! We'll admit that, when we read Drum's post, this thought came to mind:
Top scribes refuse to report basic data? Maybe it's just as well...