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Sunday, August 14, 2005

How to Mismanage Statistics and Hoodwink People

The latest stench wafting from the dankest, foulest, fetid, and odious corners of the blogosphere fever swamps goes something like this:

"60% of Americans don't support President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War."

The explanation is that Americans want the troops out. Suddenly a majority apparently believe Michael Moore's "Minutemen" (al Qaeda head-choppers) should be allowed to run roughshod over those brave Iraqis who've stood up for a chance at democracy and freedom, despite the long odds in that part of the world.

Is that the real explanation?

In a word, no. Manipulating polling data is really very simple. The first rule of manipulating polling data is to fail to distinguish types of negative responders. In all liklihood a substantial number of Americans who "don't support Bush" would favor a more robust approach to terrorism.

In recent weeks it's become clear that both Syria and Iran have funded and supported the "insurgency." That the vast majority of suicide bombers come from outside Iraq is now common knowledge to anyone who reads the news on a regular basis. To complete the third strike, troops in Afghanistan have been complaining the Pakistani border has become a safe haven for Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists.

It is not hard to imagine those on the Right losing support for Bush's handling of the "War on Terror." The only way to properly fight an enemy is to take the fight to his doorstep, his turf. There is no home-field advantage in war. These "negative responders" would not favor withdrawl and surrender to the terrorists as the manipulators of the data would have you believe.

When, or if, I do a next installment on "How to Mismanage Statistics and Hoodwink People" it will be entitled "The Form of the Question: One Word Can Make the Difference."


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Rancher said...

Dude your comments section is getting spammed! How did that happen? I'd get on Bloggers case about that if I were you. The biggest problem I have on the way Bush is handling this is he needs to get allot tougher on Syria and Iran As long as those terrorist bases continue as they are I see no end in sight.

Rancher said...


You can delete posts by hitting the little trash can. You do have to be logged on.

hrun said...

Beagle, this post would be more powerful if you would actually identify those people who think the 'real explanation' is 'that Americans want the troops out.'

Since my memory is often fallable I went back to two websites who are by the right spectrum of the blogosphere are often decried as the worst offenders in left Blogistan: Atrios and Kos both linked to the Newsweek poll that reported the 61% number. Yet, neither one made the faulty conclusion that this means 61% of Americans want to pull out of Iraq.

Of course, you could have found even more dank, foul, fetid, and odious corners of the blogosphere than Daily Kos and Atrios... I was not in the right mood to search. In the end, it is just good practice to show where you found something, just to be sure that you are not attacking a straw man.