Stop Allowing False Claims to Be Presented as Facts in Congressional Hearings

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
 
This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Target: Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives

Goal: Demand that evidence used in congressional hearings is held to the same standard of admissible evidence used in courts.

False or misleading evidence can currently be presented in congressional hearings due to a shocking lack of regulation. Before evidence is used in criminal or civil court, it must be deemed admissible by a judge. The two factors by which evidence is measured is whether it is relevant and whether it is reliable. Relevance is determined by whether the evidence proves or disproves an important fact related to the specific case. If the evidence is not closely related to the facts on question, if it is misleading, or a waste of time, it is not considered relevant, and therefore not admissible. The second factor is whether the evidence is reliable. This means that the evidence needs to be credible, not unfairly prejudicial, not hearsay, nor provided by anyone other than an expert on the matter.

Take for example the congressional hearing on whether or not to defund Planned Parenthood and affiliated clinics last year. Republican representative Jason Chaffetz displayed a slide that had a graph which appeared to demonstrate that cancer screening and prevention services had dramatically decreased in quantity, while abortions had increased in proportion to screening during that time. This graph was not plotted properly on either the X or Y axis, being made of nearly perpendicular straight lines. The actual quantity of cancer screenings had decreased, in part due to better technology that did not require screenings to occur as frequently, but the quantity of cancer screenings was still significantly higher than that of abortion services provided. Furthermore, the graph was pulled from Americans Union for Life, a pro-choice group, but claimed by Chaffetz to be pulled directly from Planned Parenthood’s annual reports.

At a glance, such evidence seems to prove a very important point, but unfortunately, it grossly misrepresents any actual data. This type of evidence should be banned from congressional hearings in order to prevent doomsday prophecies and claims not based in scientific evidence. If these congressional hearings are to be used to make decisions that will affect the American people, the representatives speaking should be held to the same standards that attorneys and parties involved in legal dispute are.

By signing the petition below, you will demand that the United States Congress reform regulations about the evidence and data used in congressional hearings. Representatives should not be able to use false or misrepresented data in order to pass their policies through Congress.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Speaker Ryan,

Congressional hearings are tools used to debate and determine the utility of laws, policies, and political decisions. Since the outcome of these hearings affect such a great percentage of the population, it is important that the evidence presented in these hearings is held to the same standard of admissible evidence in civil or criminal court, meaning it must be relevant and reliable.

Often, representatives present data or infographics meant to be evidence of their argument that are actually gross misrepresentations of the actual data. This makes the evidence completely unreliable, which means it should not be permitted in these congressional hearings as actual evidence. Furthermore, if the data does not directly relate to any facts that are attempting to be either proven or disproven, it should not be admissible.

I am urging you to further regulate the standards for evidence presented in congressional hearings. Please take actions to enforce policies that require evidence to be reliable as well as relevant to the matter at hand.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Lawrence Jackson

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One Comment

  1. Juliette Dauterive says:

    This is an excellent idea. Arguments need to be based on sound facts, not hearsay.

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