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How to lie with statistics, or Spin 401

by geezer in Paris Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 10:33:58 AM EST

My first statistics course was taught by a bright, funny man-- with a very limited career in academia, it turned out. He was the news director of one of the largest television stations in America at the time, and a man of integrity- fatal flaws in both worlds, apparently. Along with the usual arid stat text, we read "How to Lie With Statistics", (Huff and Geis, 1954)and I am grateful for this.
Here is a grin --albeit a pained one-- for the post- SOTU  word.

The Hill (excerpt)(SOTU falls flat-))

 Bill Clinton's approval rating jumped six points after his 1996 speech and 10 points after his 1998 address. Only one poll has come out to date with an approval rating, and Rasmussen reports Bush's approval down three points in the days after the speech.
There are other measures of success, and Bush's speech lags on most of them. According to Gallup, 48 percent of those who watched Bush had a "very positive" reaction -- the lowest since Gallup began keeping track in 1998, except for Bush's own 2004 appearance (45 percent were very positive).
Over 80 percent of those who watched Clinton's speeches were convinced afterward that he was leading us in the right direction. Bush's speech convinced just 44 percent of those who saw it that the economy was getting better and only 40 percent that our situation in Iraq was improving. Those failures are particularly striking when one considers that only 25 percent of Bush's audience was Democrats, while 52 percent were Republicans.
Even more important than history is political necessity. A president's approval rating is his most potent weapon. Bush's rating is already lower than that of any other second-term president at a comparable point, except for Richard Nixon, soon to resign.

CNN (excerpt)

President's speech received favorably

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Overall, President Bush's State of the Union was received favorably by a sample of speech watchers interviewed by CNN and Opinion Research Corporation immediately after his 50-minute address to a joint session of Congress.

But the poll showed that Bush registered his lowest "very positive" post-State of the Union reaction of his presidency. Bush reached a high water mark of a 60% "very positive" response immediately following his 2005 speech. In 2006, 48% of speech watchers described his address as "very positive."

As for Tuesday night's speech, only 20% of those polled had a "negative" reaction to Bush's speech, while 41% walked away with a "very positive" feeling about the speech and 37% had a "somewhat positive" reaction.

A bare majority of Americans who watched the speech said they were confident that the U.S. would achieve its goals in Iraq; 46% were not confident. Compare that to the 2004 State of the Union, less than a year after the start of the Iraq war, when 71% of people who watched that speech expressed confidence about Iraq.

On the issue of bipartisanship, 53% of speech watchers said Bush's remarks were more likely to lead to cooperation between Democrats and the White House, while 43% did not think the address would help bridge the political differences.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll interviewed 370 adult Americans -- 32% Republican, 31% Democrat and 36% Independent -- who watched Bush's speech.


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I am curious as to what percentage reacted to the speech with horrified revulsion, twitching and contorting painfully on the floor in the kind of fit that only the oratory of a truly awful speaker could inspire. Because, had I watched it, I would be in this category. Yuck! Not primarily for the content, mind you, but for the horrifyingly bungled and senselessly idiotic stream of garbled sounds that one presumes are emitted precisely to irk what conservative commentators like to call the 'left-wing elite'. Brrrrrr.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 11:35:12 AM EST
Recalling an old anecdote. One day, Carter and Brezhnev had a race, and Carter won. TASS reports: in a very competitive field, our leader was second, while over-praised Carter was the last but one.
by Sargon on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 11:35:12 AM EST
Bush's speech convinced just 44 percent of those who saw it that the economy was getting better and only 40 percent that our situation in Iraq was improving. Those failures are particularly striking when one considers that only 25 percent of Bush's audience was Democrats, while 52 percent were Republicans.

If my US husband's immediate channel-switch reflex whenever Bush's face appears on TV is anything to go by, maybe the approval-analysts should have factored in the probability that these days, large numbers of Americans deliberately avoid watching Bush on TV because they find him so sickening they can no longer stand the sight of him?

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami

by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 09:19:18 PM EST
"How to Lie With Statistics", (Huff and Geis, 1954)  

An easy to read, absolutely great book.  I have never seen it surpassed, indeed it is rare for a stat book to even acknowledge the problem of manipulation of statistical measures and diagrams.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Jan 24th, 2007 at 09:28:56 PM EST
i liked my stats professor. He taught from his own text books. He was the kind of guy who always had chalky handprints on his ass. I liked his passion and his candor. "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics" is the heading of the first section of the first chapter of his textbook.

So looking at these exemplary pollster products, I gotta wonder, what's up with the sample sizes? I mean, ya know.  The real news obviously is they had a hard time finding anyone who watched the SOTU.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Fri Jan 26th, 2007 at 11:23:04 PM EST


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