Friday, November 19, 2010

Do Poll-Quoters Even Understand the Polls They Quote?

Ok, so, I've now seen references to two different polls that claim to support the TSA's enhanced pat-downs. One is the one that the TSA cites in their blog and one was one cited in the LA Time's news blog. In both cases, the people claiming the polls support their view didn't seem to actually read how the polls were structured.

The poll cited by the TSA in their blogs was what statisticians would refer to as a "non-representative sample". The poll was a random sampling of the population-at-large. It was not a sampling of the traveling-population. In other words, the sample population could be be heavily skewed towards respondents not directly effected by the new policies. If the TSA wanted to be more convincing, they'd have polled actual travelers - particularly frequent-travelers. Then there might be something resembling validity in the results.

The poll cited in the LA Time's news blog uses the misleading claim of "travel professionals". It's used in a way to make the un-careful reader think they're referring to people that fly, on a frequent basis, as part of their job. However, if one bothers to read rather than just skimming (or even just taking a headline at face value), one discovers that the "travel professionals" polled were the people making travel arrangements. It wasn't a poll of people that use those travel arrangements. Much like the poll cited by the TSA, it's not a poll of those directly impacted by the TSA policies.

Unfortunately, there's far too many people out there who take things at face value. There's far too many skimmers. There's far too many "headlines-only" readers. Simply put, there's too many people that are simply lazy in how they choose to inform themselves. News organizations, corporations and anyone in the spin business knows this and take advantage of it.

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