Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stupid stuff you shouldn't do with polls

Sad news for CBS Miami: Even if you're writing dumb throwaways about poll results to feed your sports-starved population, you do not get to make stuff up:

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – While the Miami Heat tied the 2013 NBA Finals at 2-2 Thursday night, outside of South Florida, the San Antonio Spurs are the overwhelming selection for Americans to win the NBA championship.

Set aside the "while" clause for a moment -- what do "most Americans" think about the NBA finals?

According to Public Policy Polling, 32 percent of those surveyed wanted the Spurs to win the Finals while 20 percent selected the Heat. The polling came as part of a larger poll dealing with other political issues of the day.

If your guess is that "most Americans" are a little less excited than the hed lets on, good. Those results leave 48% in the "not sure" camp, and with a 4-point margin of sampling error at 95% confidence, "not sure" could even be an outright majority. (If it makes you feel any better, significantly more respondents -- 60% -- had an opinion about Eric Holder than about the NBA playoffs.)

While we're at it -- don't use "while" to connect two unrelated developments (especially when data collection closed before the score was in). And don't invent your own categories:

And if you’re really curious, PPP broke the poll down by vegetarian versus meat eaters with vegans preferring the Spurs by a 47-10 percent gap and omnivores picking the Spurs by a 31-21 percent margin.

BZZZZZT! You can't talk about what "vegans" prefer, because the poll doesn't distinguish them from vegetarians. (Q23: "Are you a vegan or a vegetarian, or not?") More broadly, don't talk about geographical distinctions ("outside of South Florida," for example) if the poll doesn't offer you a geographical breakdown. And never exaggerate your sampling frame: a poll of registered voters doesn't allow you to generalize about what "Americans" think.

Is it time for a chorus of "lighten up, it's only sports"? Well, look at it this way: If you randomly make stuff up about the most super-important event in South Florida, what might you stoop to in a mere national election?

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1 Comments:

OpenID q-pheevr said...

Is it time for a chorus of "lighten up, it's only sports"? Well, look at it this way: If you randomly make stuff up about the most super-important event in South Florida, what might you stoop to in a mere national election?

Or this way: If nobody cares whether it's true, why are you putting it in the newspaper?

2:54 PM, June 15, 2013  

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