924 Times Politifact Ruled on a Historical Statement, in One Chart (bonus charts included)

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Update, 2/26/16: New statements added, including the worst. Also, the Supreme Court vacancy and more Ronald Reagan. Now 938 statements. 

Politifact is perhaps never better than when it dives deep into a historical statement made by a politician or partisan commentator, cuts through the chaff, gathers expert opinions, and delivers a satisfying final judgement ranging from “True” to “Pants on Fire!” Some might accuse them of dismissing all the nuance and uncertainty of historical knowledge in favor of their clean and clear rating system, but when a politico claims that “The Taliban have been there for …  hundreds of thousands of years” or that the founding fathers were actively involved in cockfighting or that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican (again, and again), nuance isn’t really necessary.

I started collecting Politifact rulings of historical statements not just for the satisfaction of seeing abusers of history called out, but to explore how politicians and their supporters use history. My selection is an unscientific sample of Politifact’s unscientific sample, but exploring these statements through visualizations was highly entertaining and caused a few questions to jump out. Why are the discussions of taxes, budgets, and debt so prone to historic comparison and hyperbole? Why would historical arguments appear so frequently in discussions about education? How many times will Politifact have to refute the claim that the Civil War was “not about slavery?”

A word about the data before we cut to the charts. … Read more

More History PhDs (Again) but Fewer with Jobs out of the Gate (Again)

In contrast to the declining number of bachelors degrees in history, the number of PhDs in history continues to rise, according to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). I’ve updated 2013’s visualizations with numbers covering those who graduated in 2014 (released last month). The updates are below, with a few brief comments.

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  • The 2014 survey shows the gap between those who have definite employment and those still seeking a job widening dramatically. Nearly 46 percent of new history PhDs were still seeking employment at the time they took the survey. Only 37 percent had definite jobs. In 2013 the difference in percentages was less than one percent.

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Other Humanities Subjects Lost Majors Too, but History Lost More

HistTreeAfter seeing the surprisingly steep drop in the number of history bachelors degrees awarded in the academic year ending in 2014 (post and viz here), I wanted to compare history to other humanities and social science subjects. After carving out some time during the holidays, I did, and found that yes, these subjects also lost students. But the loss experienced by the history discipline was still exceptional.

The first chart below shows the percent change in the number of graduates between AY 2013 and 2014 for several majors. All of these humanities and social science subjects lost students (and I threw in psychology and communication/ media studies for comparison). History’s 9 percent drop, however, is more than twice the average drop for humanities/social science subjects. … Read more