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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Hearings don’t speak to facts, just GOP classlessness

Throughout September, the House launched a series of hearings on whether Planned Parenthood should continue to receive federal funding. The hearings came about after a group called The Center for Medical Progress posted videos of Planned Parenthood staff allegedly displaying the illegal sale of fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing, arguing that the videos are heavily edited—the creators copped to this—and that donating tissue for research is legal. However, this didn’t stop about 30 GOP congressmen from threatening another government shutdown if the hearings didn’t take place.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards appeared in the hearings, which were, to say the least, a bit of a circus.

Richards could often barely get through a full sentence without being interrupted. She was questioned about her large salary, a question that Rep. Carol Maloney later called “totally inappropriate and discriminatory,” saying that a man would never be asked the same question.

 Richards was labeled a criminal by Rep. Jimmy Duncan, who stated in his closing, “It seems to me that the apology you offered was like what some criminals do. They are not really sorry for what they have done. They are sorry they got caught.”

While these are all blatant breaches of professionalism by the GOP members, perhaps the most egregious was the chart presented by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, which purported to show the breast cancer screenings performed by Planned Parenthood going down drastically while the number of abortions performed went up drastically.

Chaffetz originally claimed these were statistics from Planned Parenthood itself. They were not. They were statistics from a pro-life organization, Americans United for Life.

However, the source of the numbers was not the biggest issue, in particular since they are based on actual statistics. Rather, the blatant misuse of the graph in order to mislead should be cause for concern.

The first red flag should be that the chart looks like it was made with Microsoft Paint and only includes two data points for each line—number of abortions and number of preventative cancer screenings in 2006 and 2013, respectively. Furthermore, the arrowheads at the end of the line show the misleading conclusion that these trends will continue.

Even more worrisome, however, is the fact that cancer screenings and preventions are plotted in the millions, while abortions are plotted in the hundreds of thousands. This is called a dual-axis plot and, as most people ignore the axes that graphs are plotted on, can cause them to draw incorrect conclusions about the level of correlation of the data.

It’s even more inappropriate to compare equivalent measures—i.e. services performed by Planned Parenthood—using different scales.

Most worrisome, however, is that the y-axis labels were omitted entirely. quoted Noah Iliinsky of Complex Diagrams as writing, “By claiming to combine these two lines into one graph and then omitting the y-axis, we are being misled into to [sic] making a false comparison of two non-equivalent contexts. … The graph is absolutely misleading, and intentionally so.”

As Hannah Dinell, an ecology and evolutionary biology sophomore, said, “If I turned in graphs without axes in my lab classes, I would fail. If I tried to draw those kinds of conclusions, I would be laughed out.”

Politifact used the given numbers to make its own version of the chart in question that shows that the chart presented in the hearing was blatantly wrong. 

One could question whether the hearings were even necessary. The GOP majority admitted that they have not seen the full, unedited videos and have not asked the CMP to provide them. Also, Planned Parenthood’s federal funding does not go toward abortions in most cases, but rather preventative measures like cancer screenings.

When it comes down to it, though, the real issue that people should consider when looking at the congressional hearing isn’t funding Planned Parenthood. It’s not even abortion as a larger issue. 

The real problem highlighted by these hearings is the professionalism of the GOP congressmen involved in the hearings and the blatant attacks on the leader of an organization. Their use of misleading statistical analysis and their blatant disrespect for a witness show that, rather than investigating an important use of federal funding, the GOP’s only goal really seems to be assaulting a worthwhile entity while simultaneously making a farce out of the government. 

If the GOP wants to be taken seriously, it needs to show the professionalism that should be expected of elected officials. Until then, the real cause for concern will be its behavior, not its policies.

Follow Maddie Pickens on Twitter.

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