The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Frank Lutz’

Why So Much of Polling is B.S. — F**k You, Frank!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 3, 2009

“The numbers don’t lie” goes an oft-quoted saying… and that’s true, for the most part.  Numbers don’t lie, but what does lie is the people who are reporting the numbers.  The recent brouhaha over health care reform in the United States has brought this fact about numbers & statistics into stark relief of late.  Most people, when they read a poll, don’t really think about the numbers all that much, or they are too innumerate to really understand what they’re reading – which is how so many are easily manipulated.  And oftentimes the polls are self-contradictory.

For example, look at this recent article – which is, refreshingly, a good example of critical thinking in the modern media – concerning the question of polling public opinion on health care reform…

Health care polls leave pols dizzy

Legislators hoping to learn what their constituents think about the issue — and how to vote to keep them happy — face a dizzying deluge of hard-to-reconcile data, some of which suggests that voters are more than a little confused, as well.

What to make of it, for example, when one poll finds that 63 percent think “death panels” are a “distortion” or “scare tactic,” and only 30 percent think the issue is “legitimate,” while another finds that 41 percent believe that people would die because “government panels” would prevent them from getting the treatment they needed?

Or when one survey finds that 55 percent of Americans support the public option, while another says 79 percent favor one — but also notes that only 37 percent people surveyed actually knew what “public option” meant?

And because there is such ambiguity in these polls, those with an agenda can usually cherry-pick whatever data they want to make a case for their particular argument.  Even changing the wording of a particular question just slightly can have a huge impact…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in mathematics, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Damn Lies & Statistics: Who’s Counting?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 18, 2009

In the United States, tax day (April 15th) has just passed, and this year we had a rather interesting series of anti-tax events organized by Fox News called “Tea Parties”. The organizers of these events were, at one point, estimating perhaps millions of people in attendance.

fox news tea party

To me, the interesting thing about events like this is the numbers of people that are reported to have attended. In an attempt to apply a version of the argument from popularity, organizers of such events will tend to over-estimate attendance while those in opposition to such events usually try to downplay those same numbers.

Sometimes, when we see polls or statistics being reported in the media or by some interest group, the numbers are presented to us as what Dr. Joel Best (author of “Damned Lies & Statistics”) refers to as “little nuggets of truth”. However, a deeper analysis of such reports often presents a very different picture.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in mathematics, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: