Thursday, October 30, 2008

iowahawk says: play with your own balls

Here's on the best views on polls that I have ever read.

We are seeing polls all over the place - same day, same sample size, vastly different results. How does that happen? I've read about different weightings of dems to pub, different days of the week (pubs tend to be less available on weekends). The structure of a poll to skew the results seem endless.

Iowahawk suggests that there is an urn which contains just red ball and blue balls. The task is to sample the balls by drawing some out, and to estimate the total contents. It's a flawed premise. Yes, we have no other way, but it doesn't make it less flawed.

Iowahawk writes, in part, when trying to count the number of blue balls and red balls in an urn, consider the following:

  • What if 40% of the balls have personally chosen to live in an urn that you legally can't stick your hand into?
  • What if 50% of the balls who live in the legal urn explicitly refuse to let you select them?
  • What if the balls inside the urn are constantly interacting and talking and arguing with each other, and can decide to change their color on a whim?
  • What if you have to rely on the balls to report their own color, and some unknown number are probably lying to you?
  • What if you've been hired to count balls by a company who has endorsed blue as their favorite color?
  • What if you have outsourced the urn-ball counting to part-time temp balls, most of whom happen to be blue?
  • What if the balls inside the urn are listening to you counting out there, and it affects whether they want to be counted, and/or which color they want to be?
Read it all here.

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