Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Polling Facts

Comedian John Oliver pointed out that according to a poll, one in four Americans is skeptical about the existence of climate change, to which he responded, "Who gives a [expletive]? That doesn't matter," Oliver continued. "You don't need people's opinion on a fact. You might as 
well have a poll asking: 'Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?' or 'Do owls exist?' or 'Are there hats? The only accurate way to report that one out of four Americans are skeptical about global warming is to say ‘a poll find that one of four Americans are wrong about something.'"

Now mind you, we are not talking about whether climate change is man made, but whether it exists.   Instead of polling about solutions to climate change, which 97% of all scientific studies do say man is at fault, people are being asked if it even exists.  This points to a problem with polls and how they are frequently used. There is a poll for everything and using a legitimate poll to ask questions about opinions and not factual ignorance. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, one poll in 2010 discovered that 40% of those polled believe that the Earth is 10 thousand or less years old.

There also "taste polls."  I  told students in my classes that such data is not valid.  These are the polls that ask "What do you like better? This or this? Taste is not quantifiable.  It is, after all, a matter of taste.  I am not going to change anyone's opinion on the basis of what I like.  I like it because I like it.  I know this is circular reasoning, but it is only valid if a company is trying to discover which flavor of a new product is going to be more popular.  In forming a reasoned and balanced opinion, such polls serve no real purpose.

My wife was called the other night for a poll.  It started out as a poll on general beliefs, but it soon became apparent that the questions were becoming more and more biased.  The poll, by the time it was finished, became clearly a tool that was going to be used for some political agenda of anti-abortion.  Polls are not only used now to find out opinions but form opinions.  They are used to find out if people are blindly following the red meat fed to their political beliefs.  They are used for propaganda. They are used to reinforce ignorance. They are used for more than finding out the lay of the opinion landscape.

What is more, these polls will be reported by the mainstream media. They will be used to shore up extremist positions that are founded in neither in reality or solidly informed beliefs. These polls will not be questioned or even validated.  So when you see a poll, you should always check to see what the questions were, who was sampled, and is the poll actually seeking opinion or opinion on a fact. Polls need to quit trolling, and so does the media by using polls. Sensationalism is not news.