Friday, November 27, 2015

Statistics inscrutable to Americans

This article (Politics and the New Machine) which appeared in the 11/16/15 New Yorker magazine, presented very troubling evidence that the polls with which Americans seem so fascinated are at best untrustworthy and at worst a fraud perpetrated on us by pollsters who know they don't represent electoral views.  Even worse, they may actually be corrupting the very purpose of the electoral process.

Americans are obsessed with simple measures which purport to represent complex phenomena.  To wit:

  • IQ
  • Credit Score
  • GPA
  • BMI
  • SAT/ACT Scores
  • Age
  • Zip Code
  • AGI (Adjusted Gross Income)

We don't have time for details.  We aren't interested in stories, just summaries and aggregates.

The convenience of a number trumps the work required to understand what it really represents and its potential irrelevance to an individual case.  The statistic belies the assumptions, trade-offs, biases and prejudices.

Big data gives us the ability to collect more information, but humans can't process it anyway.  Get ready for more approximations.