Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Numerology of Nose-Counting

I place no importance on “national” polls on any subject, and certainly none on “local” polls or polls conducted within certain groups, such as scientists or parents or garage mechanics, not even when a poll is “positive” on a position I think is rational or proper. They are a hybrid creature of the art of statistics. Like statistics, they can be as skewed and weighted as loaded dice or marked cards. They are as trustworthy as a roulette wheel governed by a discreetly employed, out-of-sight foot pedal. Percentages generated by polls are basically meaningless, even when they are not manipulated or tilted towards an a priori conclusion. Polls and statistics ought to be put in the same retirement home for pseudo-sciences in the company of numerology, tarot cards, horoscopes, and phrenology.

In all the years I have been writing about political campaigns, not once have I been asked for my opinion by a pollster. Not on the street, not through the mail or by phone. Nor would I participate in a poll if ever asked to participate in one.

At its very best, a poll can only indicate a prevalence, prejudice or bias in a handful of individuals for or against something. A consensus held by a minuscule number of people should not be mistaken for truth or proof or for the consensus of a far larger group of people. Yet, because so many place grave, illogical importance on the significance of polls, polls are used as tools of persuasion or dissuasion. How often has one heard during the presidential campaign that Obama has an x-point lead over McCain? What is the true significance of that statement? In fact, there is none, especially when one knows that the individuals polled represent an infinitesimal fraction of the total population.

But, then, as Ayn Rand once aptly remarked, fifty million Frenchmen can be as wrong as one. Nose-counting cannot establish metaphysical or even moral truths.

Most news anchors and other teleprompter readers know this (while reading off-screen copy written by their left-liberal news writers; the papers one sees them marking up or shuffling around are meaningless props), yet they continue to cite polls in their reportage and attach to them metaphysical authority. It allows these photogenic icons to subtly promote their own favorite candidates or positions by discouraging viewers they suspect might vote for candidates the anchors dislike.

This is not journalism; it is the art of insinuation. “Don’t bother hoping for a McCain win, because according to the latest Flugelhorn and Flummery poll Obama has a 15-point lead, and is a shoo-in come November. Unless you switch your vote to Obama, you shouldn’t even bother casting a ballot.” I say this without voicing any preference for McCain or Obama, both of whom are despicable statists who have demonstrated as much understanding of America and the principles on which it was founded as George the Third. Or George W. Bush.

I would discourage people from voting at all (as a friend once remarked to me, voting only encourages the politicians) in order to give the winner the least possible mandate to govern and intrude into one’s life. Of course, political mandates any more mean little or nothing to our elective aristocracy. I noted in “The Congressional Betrayal of America” and “America vs. Congress” that Congressmen’s phones and computers were overheating from urgent communiqués from their constituents expressing opposition to the proposed bailout. The phenomenon was noteworthy even in the news media.

For example, it prompted Fox News on October 10 to report the results of a national telephone poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp. between October 8 and 9, in which over 50% of the 900 polled registered voters of mixed political affiliations opposed further government action on the bailout or did not think the bailout would accomplish anything more than a continuance of government screw-ups. Well, that was sorta-kinda good news, although the poll did not suggest the thinking behind the opposition. The poll also indicated that some in the news media suspected that the “necessity” of a bailout or the nationalization of the economy was not thought to be a good idea among some of the electorate.

Our elective aristocracy disagreed. It voted for the bailout.

Knowing the reasoning of the 50+% would have given Fox and me more valuable information, although it would still have remained a matter of 50 million Frenchmen vs. 900 registered voters vs.500 orangutans vs. 263 Congressmen.

That’s “democracy” in action. And you thought this was a rights-protecting republic. The last of it died on October 3, when Congress betrayed America.

11 comments:

Derek said...

Mr. Cline,

Come, come, good statistics, like wine, is a good familiar creature if it be well-used. While I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion that statistics and polls are often used to support positions a priori, I don't think it's right to dismiss Statistics itself as akin to phrenology and astrology. I've seen the nuts-and-bolts of statistics - it's basic building blocks are built up from calculus. The theory of statistics is well-rooted in reality, so I think it is more critical to place blame on those statisticians who use poor assumptions to "prove" some point, or those who think that the voice of the many should be able to drown out the voice of the few on any issue. But don't blame the science - blame the scientist.

-drj

PS: I absolutely loved Sparrowhawk, and since I learned of it's existence, I had to wait patiently between book 5 and 6. I looked forward to the release of that book more than any other in my life.

Rob said...

So the republic is dead? Really Mr Cline, your cynicism surprises me. So long as we remain free to speak out, there is still a chance - which means: the republic is not dead yet!

Andrew E. said...

Point well taken sir. "Statistics" has now worked it's way into virtual obscelescence, not for its inherent failings but for its purposeful manipulations and misunderstandings.
Here's to hoping neither party wins! Ha! A fool's hope for sure but I could wish for no more positive outcome than that.

Cheers,
Andrew J.
aje_werdna76@yahoo.com

malcontent said...

This was precisely my view when the bailout was passed--that our representative form of government was dead. The clear implication is that the congresspeople who voted for it thought that they knew better than the people they were supposed to be representing.

Perfect timing with Halloween coming up; I'm scared.

shahnawaz said...

there should be a limit to pollyanaism.ed is absolutely spot on.american freedom is under attack on all sides but when people who r supposed to represent americans indulge in bailing out the orren boyles and james taggarts than it's time to seriously rethink your "optimistic"(read somnambulistic) worldviews.

another thought provoking piece there ed.keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Rob commented: "So the republic is dead? Really Mr Cline, your cynicism surprises me. So long as we remain free to speak out, there is still a chance - which means: the republic is not dead yet!"

Yes, the republic is dead, after a long sickness brought on by the anthrax of statism. How much longer will we be free to speak out on issues, or to protest without fear of penalty by the government, Obama thugs, religionists, environmentalists, and the like? The government needn't resort to overt, legislated censorship to silence people, but resort to more underhanded methods, such as sudden tax return audits, the arbitrary seizure of one's bank accounts (whoops, we made a mistake, sorry you almost starved to death!), and dozens of other ways to make one's life very difficult and perhaps even impossible. That is the point we've reached, and while you can speak freely all you wish to your congressman and the press, no one's going to dare listen or care to listen for as long as government has the right to initiate force in the guise of national security or political correctness and so on.

Ed

Rob said...

Mr Cline - I don't deny that we are in danger of losing our freedom of speech, possibly sooner than we think. What I am saying is: we're not there yet, and so long as we are not there, the possibility of action exists.

Anonymous said...

Don't people who are being openly enslaved by their own government need to have the courage to stand up and say, "Stop. Or else!" at some point?

I think so.

But at what point, that is the question. I guess that's up to each individual to decide.

Michael Smith said...

Has anyone noticed that the $700 billion bailout bill that was supposed to cure this economic mess has been completely abandoned by those who promised it would work -- and replaced with a $2.5 trillion dollar plan under which banks were forced to sell a portion of their business directly to the Treasury?

See the story here: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/10/15/business/15bailout.php

The republic is indeed dead when the Executive branch can seize partial ownership of the nation's financial institutions without even the pretense of Congressional authorization. We are here beyond mere fascism -- which maintains the pretense of private "ownership" of property subject to government's dictates on how that property is to be used -- and have moved instead into the outright and overt nationalization characteristic of socialism.

Where are all the protestors who for eight years have bemoaned the Bush administration's "power grabs" in the form of Patriot Act provisions that authorized them to spy on your library habits?

The same fools that told us back in February that a $150 billion "stimulus package" would avoid a recession and prevent further problems -- and then told us in the summer that a $200 billion bailout package would suffice to cure our ills -- and then came back with a $700 billion package a scant three weeks ago -- have now committed the taxpayers to $2.5 trillion in bailouts, much of it, according to that New York Times article, forced upon private bankers that don't want it.

Ayn Rand said that it was a mistake to think that dictatorships rule by means of iron laws rigidly enforced. Rather, they rule by arbitrary rules created and enforced seemingly at random, without warning and without the opportunity to protest or prepare. That would seem to summarize exactly what we’ve moved into -- and the public doesn’t seem to care.

Mark Mayhugh said...

Actually, the republic has been doomed since the civil war effectively removed the constitutional constraints on Federal government. Contrary to popular belief, the civil war was not over slavery as such, but over Federal powers usurping states rights, in defiance of the constitution.

Amendment X to the constitution states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

I defy anyone to show how even 20% of the federal actions today are based on powers delegated to the United States by the Constitution. The federal government has no business doing MOST of what it is doing, especially social security, medical treatment, welfare, education, ecology, to name a few. The latest bailout is truly a drop in the bucket compared to the vast resources illegally seized by the Federal Government for Social Security.

The problem is not so much the politicians not listening to the people. Sometimes the people should NOT be listened to, especially if they propose laws that are unconstitutional. The problem is the congress seizing power indiscriminately, as though the 10th amendment had been repealed.

The question is, how can we force the federal government to stay within the bounds of the 10th amendment, and repeal all laws not supported by the 10th amendment?

Jim May said...

Actually, the republic has been doomed since the civil war effectively removed the constitutional constraints on Federal government. Contrary to popular belief, the civil war was not over slavery as such, but over Federal powers usurping states rights, in defiance of the constitution.

This is flat-out Southern revisionist BS. The war was fought over slavery. If the South understood liberty at all, they would have emancipated the slaves ASAP, knowing that their credibility on the matter would remain zero so long as that benighted institution remained in existence.

That is not to say that the Constitution did not take damage as a result of the war; even as far back as then, the intellectual grasp of this nation's founding principles were already ebbing. But if anything, the South made that problem far worse by associating the non-racist opponents of Federal overreach with the representatives of a backwards slave culture, an association that persists to this day.