I just finished adding a new feature to Richmond Sunlight—the ability to sort through legislators by a variety of attributes like location, race, sex, year they started in office, etc.—and when I was done, I found a bug. For some reason, my code was listing Sen. Robert Hurt as the most partisan Republican in the senate. And I knew that couldn’t be true, because I mentioned earlier this month that he’s the least partisan Republican in the senate, a fact that I repeated on Weekend Virginia a few days ago. After a good half hour of debugging, I realized that the fault (dear Brutus) was in myself. There was nothing wrong with my code. Hurt is, in fact, ranked as the single most partisan member of the senate.
For the curious, a quick explanation as to how I made this particular error. Partisanship is ranked within the database from 0-100, with 0 arbitrarily assigned to Democrats—meaning “this person cosponsors bills exclusively with Democrats—and 100 assigned to Republicans. The effect of that is that the lower Democrats’ numbers, the more partisan that they are, but the higher Republicans’ numbers, the more partisan that they are. In the course of writing a blog entry about bipartisan Democrats, an offhand mention of just one Republican left me in a prime position to misread the data, using the inverse scale.
The moral of the story here is that it is far better to interpret publicly verifiable data than data that only I have access to. Not only does it make that interpretation a springboard for further exploration of the data by others, but it enables peer review, which helps make sure that cited facts are, indeed, facts.
I’ll close with a fun fact. Ignoring freshmen, for whom there’s little data just yet, the most partisan member of the General Assembly is Del. Todd Gilbert R-Woodstock. Don’t believe me? (And who could blame you?) Look it up.