Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Most Admired"—Interpreting Statistics

I recently came across a post online by someone who argued that the stories about Obama's loss of popularity must be bogus, since a poll had shown him to be the most admired man (and Hillary Clinton the most admired woman) in the country. I pointed out in a comment that "most admired" might mean admired by ten percent of the population if nobody else got above nine.

It turns out that I was correct, although the number is a little higher than my example.
The open-ended poll released Monday found 16 percent of people named Obama as the most-admired man, while 15 percent named Clinton as the most-admired woman. Both scores, however, have dropped significantly since 2012.  
In 2012, 30 percent of people named Obama as the most-admired man, while 21 percent named Clinton the most-admired woman. 
(From The Hill)
One implication is that the post's argument was strikingly wrong, since Obama's popularity, by this measure, is only half what it was a year ago. The more interesting point is the risk of arguing from factoids without thinking carefully about what they actually mean.

5 Comments:

At 8:50 AM, December 31, 2013, Anonymous Daublin said...

It's not your main point, but I still find these numbers scarily high. What has Obama done, in an objective sense, to deserve such severe admiration?

He has made a career out of being likable without committing to any specific ideas. He's not succeeded at anything I know of other than getting elected.

 
At 9:31 AM, December 31, 2013, OpenID undertallen said...

In a sense it is a number that is much too high. Knowledge is dispersed and difficult to communicate. In a country with 300 million inhabitants, one would expect the number one contestant to reach a tenth of a percent.

But humans are herd animals. A person that we honestly do not know much about gets ten percent. The same goes for my native Sweden.

 
At 1:28 PM, December 31, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

"The more interesting point is the risk of arguing from factoids without thinking carefully about what they actually mean."

Bug or feature?

The only peculiar skill of the journalist is his willingness to record the words of strangers. Beyond that, the only distinguishing feature of journalism (from punditry, propaganda, or, say, blogging) is its affectation. That is, the only thing that makes journalists journalists is the unnatural posture of their content, which is meant to convey a sense of non-bias.

A great example of this is the strange melody heard in the voices of TV news reporters while they're reporting.

Since this is only a posture (peel it away and journalism is just editorializing/blogging/propaganda) journalists have also developed ways to transmit their biased messages while maintaining the affectation of non-bias. This statistical sleight of hand is one of those ways.

 
At 5:14 PM, December 31, 2013, Blogger dWj said...

About 15 years ago I saw a poll that reported that Rush Limbaugh was both the most liked and the most hated [noun I don't remember].

If you literally want "the most admired person", you should allow people to list multiple choices. It's quite possible to admire more than one person.

 
At 8:54 AM, January 01, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's also important to appreciate, of course, that "most admired" is very different from "most admirable". To be in the former category requires, for example, being famous.

 

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