The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Far From "Inevitable"...
This is not an asteroid we face. It is not preordained, unstoppable, inevitable. It is a choice made by human men and women, an individual decision made a hundred million times and not the cold, precise product of gravity and mass.
My friend Iowahawk writes some of the most brilliant satire I have ever read. He likes to come across as a beer-swilling gearhead – because he is – but look at this [ http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2008/10/balls-and-urns.html ] analysis of what probability and polling is and isn’t, which I will proceed to steal a graph or two from, simply so that I may bask in its reflected glory:
You take a simple random sample of 1000 balls from an urn containing 120,000,000 red and blue balls, and your sample shows 450 red balls and 550 blue balls. Construct a 95% confidence interval for the true proportion of blue balls in the urn."
…Works pretty well if you're interested in hypothetical colored balls in hypothetical giant urns, or survival rates of plants in a controlled experiment, or defects in a batch of factory products. It may even work well if you're interested in blind cola taste tests. But what if the thing you are studying doesn't quite fit the balls & urns template?
• 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?
(And what, I wonder, if all around you, every day, you are told by all of the coolest, hippest, prettiest balls that your color is mean, irrelevant, unpopular, un-cool, evil, old, incompetent and probably racist? Would you stick to your guns in the face of that, or keep your mouth shut and show ‘em when the curtain closes?)
If one or more of the above statements are true, then the formula for margin of error simplifies to
Margin of Error = Who the hell knows?
The moral of this midterm for all would-be pollsters: if you are really interested in how many of us red and blue balls there are in this great big urn, sit back and relax until Tuesday, and let us show our true colors.
Well said, buddy. And finally, this, from Zombietime.com:
It may very well be that an army of glum, dispirited and pessimistic conservatives will reluctantly trudge to the polls on November 4, each one imagining they are the only remaining person in the entire country voting for McCain, and lo and behold -- they'll turn out to be a silent majority after all.
That may be the most prophetic sentence of the year.
I don’t want to be the person who sat home and missed being a part of that. And I won’t be.
See you there.