UPDATED: Curious claims we heard at the Texas Tribune Festival
Once again, student reporters helped us track the many speakers at the Texas Tribune Festival. Here’s a look at the most factually curious claims they noticed; what would you fact-check?
Student journalists who corralled the claims shared below include Andy East, a reporting intern for the Austin American-Statesman, Sierra Juarez], Garrett Callahan, Aiden Park and Vanessa Pulido. Others on patrol included Anthony DeVera and Forrest Milburn.
Now let’s giddyap to what festival speakers said. Unless otherwise indicated, we're not judging here whether speakers made accurate claims.
On a panel about what private colleges might teach public universities, the president of Rice University made an interesting declaration. "College is affordable for the vast majority of families, particularly affordable for the poorest families," David Leebron said. "I think as you move more to the middle class, there’s a greater set of challenges. We have many students who don’t pay any tuition at all," he said, perhaps referring only to Rice students.
"All of us have many students" for whom "going to a private university is actually less expensive than going to a public university," Leebron said.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who recently revisited Pants on Fire territory making a claim about how few of us account for all crimes, told a crowd Friday night that very few individuals licensed to carry a concealed handgun have been found guilty of crimes. His words: "Less than a quarter of 1 percent" of licensed gun-owners "in the history of concealed-carry have committed a crime." (PolitiFact Florida poked into a similar claim here.)
Patrick, a former chairman of the Senate Education Committee, also said: "There’s no evidence whatsoever that more money," meaning education spending, "leads to a better student. We see schools that are funded less who have higher test scores than schools who are funded more. New York spends twice as much as we do, and they have lower test scores. California spends more than we do" and has "lower test scores. Washington, D.C. spends more money than almost any school district on the planet Earth and have the worst schools."
Patrick also touched on a topic we’ve explored per the paucity of certain kinds of teachers in Texas schools. "Less than half of our math and science teachers in our schools have a degree in math or science," he said.
In 2013, we rated Mostly True a claim by George P. Bush that "60 percent of Texas 8th graders are not proficient in math. Only 26% have a teacher with an undergraduate major in math." Federal figures supported both ends of Bush’s claim, though clarification was needed to specify that "proficient" here didn’t mean that 60 percent of such students were flat failing to keep up. In 2011, 19 percent of Texas eighth-graders fell short of the "basic" math achievement hurdle set for the federal math test.
On a panel featuring Texas mayors, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said, "In Austin, Texas we are blessed to say that we created more middle-class jobs than any other place in the country."
In 2014, we found Mostly True a claim by Adler, then running for mayor, that "57% of the jobs created" in Austin "from 2009 to 2013 do not pay families a living wage." To be precise, that’s the estimated share of net jobs added in the multi-county Austin area (not Austin alone) pegged as having median wages less than the living wage for an adult with one child. Families vary in size, though, as do related living wages.
Another statewide elected official, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, defended his opposition to keeping deep fryers out of school cafeterias. The "previous administration" removed fryers, Miller said, "so" schools "can’t use them. What happens is those items are deep fried in industrial kitchens with chemicals, additives, and preservatives, they are flash frozen and then shipped to schools."
Miller also declared: "The average size of farms in Texas is getting smaller, not larger. The average amount of farms in Texas is increasing while the sizes are getting smaller."
Miller was interviewed by Emily Ramshaw of the Tribune; he asked her if she would feel comfortable eating a food that is mainly a clone. Miller continued: "People are scared of what they don’t know… fact is, you’ve been doing it for about a hundred years. If you had a red apple this morning, it is an exact clone of the very first Red Delicious apple."
Houston Mayor Annise Parker also appeared at the festival Saturday while separately another Houston Democrat, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, asserted that once a state law permitting residents to openly carry a handgun takes effect, "Houston will be the largest municipality in the country with an open-carry policy."
Among national figures, San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, the Senate’s minority leader, held the spotlight as did Julián Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development who earlier in the week announced his endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.
Speaking Sunday, Castro referred to the Democratic presidential debate hosted by CNN and said that Clinton, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, entered the fray with an obvious advantage. "It’s fair to say she has more foreign policy experience than anyone else on that stage," Castro declared. (Others on the stage included a fellow former senator and a former Navy secretary, James Webb, who earlier fought in Vietnam.)
Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, said that while the Obamacare law has enabled many to obtain health coverage, Texas still lags. "We still have the highest percentage of uninsured people in Texas," Castro said.
This July, we rated Mostly True a statement that Texas now has both the most uninsured people and, as before, the greatest share of uninsured residents. At the time, it newly looked like Texas had the greatest raw number of uninsured residents, though that conclusion was evidently backed up only by rough calculations, a missing clarification.
Also appearing: A to-date-obscure presidential hopeful, Democrat Lawrence Lessig, who agreed with his interviewer, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, that he’s focused on his vow to address the corruption of the nation’s representative democracy though, he confirmed, he’s dropped his vow to resign, yielding the office to the vice president, once that issue is resolved.
Lessig, noting the significance of huge campaign contributions as other candidates prepare for the 2016 primaries, said: "158 families have given half the money in this election cycle so far." The New York Times reported as much Oct. 10, 2015.
Lessig also stressed the impact of U.S. House districts being drawn by lawmakers to reduce the chances of close November House elections. "Out of 435 seats," he said, 90 or less "are competitive" in fall elections.
On another front, Lessig suggested too many working Americans are discouraged from going to the polls--with one factor being long waits. "Ten million Americans in the last election had to wait more than half an hour to vote," Lessig asserted.
Lessig didn’t appear with Miller, the agriculture commissioner, but he did toss out a food claim, saying that in 1990, no human had consumed high-fructose corn syrup and of late, it’s in a lot of processed foods.
We didn't spot a lot of youngsters at the festival. But Libby Doggett made us think of them, saying 90 percent of "brain growth occurs by the age of 5." Doggett, whose husband, Lloyd, is a Democratic U.S. House member from Austin, is the deputy assistant secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.