Monday, November 1

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Polls

Mr Twain missed one. He can be forgiven, polling wasn't an epidemic in the 19th century.

There is a joke physicists like to tell.
There was a policeman who accosted a drunk late one night. The drunk was down on his hands and knees under a street lamp, hunting for something. The policeman asked him, "What are you doing? Did you lose something?".
The drunk replied, "I lost my keys."
"Where did you lose them?"
The drunk reared up and pointed down the street.
The policeman looked down the street and asked, "Why are you looking here?"
"Why sir, it's dark over there!"
What is the point of this you ask? Well, polls are like many experiments in physics, which test only what we can measure, not what we would like to know. Polls are flawed. Polls as more often than not a measure not of the "mind of the voter" but of how the poll is worded, or the pre-conceptions of the poll-taker, or the methodology in choosing the sample set. But as bad as they are, we have only one measurement which is worth a damn. That comes tomorrow.

Finally ignore all exit polls, and let's all pray the lawyers are kept in their cages.