Department of Awful Statistics

There's a great deal of evidence suggesting that the polls commissioned from Research 2000 by Daily Kos were either inappropriately cleaned up, or outright fabricated.    To summarize crudely, there doesn't seem to be any random statistical noise in the data; there are no outliers, and there's an extremely odd tendency for the male and female crosstabs to both end in either an odd, or an even number; since these numbers vary pretty randomly, there's no reason that they should consistently be both odd or both even.

To his eternal credit, that evidence is being published by Kos himself.  I wish more commentators were this forthright when they've been taken in by bad data.

I also wish he hadn't been taken in by bad data, including this infamous poll which proves that Republicans are, like, the awfulest, stupidest people in the entire known universe.  Given the patterns that the investigators who published on Kos have found, it seems like that poll is probably bunk--concocted or massaged to fit the thesis of the person who commissioned it.  (Just to be clear, I don't think Kos knew that this was happening.  A customer who is told what he wants to hear is a customer who is happy to buy more polls.)

However, the fact that R2K has apparently been discredited will not prevent this poll from popping up, over and over, in the work of pundits and bloggers.  The speed and openness with which Kos has exposed this problem is admirable.  But we need to be even faster at sniffing out bad apples before they pollute the data barrel.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Business

Just In