Incompetent Polling + Confirmation Bias + Lazy Analysis= Fake News

Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, reports the Washington Post. The writer then goes on to explain why this “surprising result” occurred. The main thesis: Americans are now so far removed from farm and food production that ignorance is epidemic.

I have no doubt that too many kids aren’t properly informed by the adults in their lives about basic facts of food and agriculture., just as I know that the average American has trouble placing the Civil War and World War I on a timeline, can’t name more than ten Presidents, and thinks JFK was “great.” I also have no doubt that 7% of the American public is dumber than a box of whoopie cushions.  Taking a poll result like this one at face values, however, shows why the news media was so sure Hillary Clinton would win.

Ann Althouse nailed it in a brief post she calls : “There’s nothing dumber than forgetting that other people might have a sense of humor and are screwing with you.”:

“When you’re studying something among people you look upon as commoners, you’d better stop and wonder: Am I the Margaret Mead?”

(If you are unfamiliar with the Mead reference, this will help.)

Both my father and my son got in trouble in school by repeatedly either refusing to answer what they felt were stupid questions, or intentionally answering them incorrectly. My father was regarded as mentally-challenged because of this stubborn (but very characteristic of him) trait, and was made to, as he told it, “sit in the back with the kid who blew spit-bubbles all day and the other kid who kept waving his hands around.”

I even succumb now and then. In high school, a question on a standardized multiple choice aptitude test so amused me that I answered it incorrectly and decided to check  the funniest answers for the rest of the test. My score suggested that I had the intelligence of a wadded up paper towel. My teacher and the principal were not amused.

I still remember the question. It was..

Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of…

A. Salt

B. Pepper

C. Wood

D. Margarine 

Guess which one I chose.

54 thoughts on “Incompetent Polling + Confirmation Bias + Lazy Analysis= Fake News


    And Albert Mohler’s response, which I think is apt, and I think even the non-religious can look past his references to Christianity and agree:

    “…while we’re looking at international stories, the Wall Street Journal this week ran a story with the headline,

    “A Global Test for Kindergartners.”

    Leslie Brody reports that many are asking the question,

    “Are American 5-year-olds falling behind the rest of the world?”

    It turns out that leaders from the organization for economic cooperation and development now aim to find out how children in various nations are doing at age 5; they’re going to try to quantify and assess the intellectual development, variable across different countries and cultures, of children aged 5. One of the things we need to note and note with concern is that this kind of analytical assessment is now being taken to younger and younger ages. Most children and teenagers, for that matter young adults in college, are assessed over and over again. There are huge questions as to whether or not those assessments actually assess much of the truth, but we are living in an age that is doing two things simultaneously: In the first it is trying to quantify everything; it is a society that increasingly wants a number beside every question and beside every name. We want a number that can give us the comfort that we know what we’re dealing with even in a process which any fair-minded educator or parent would know cannot be reduced to a number. The other thing we have here is that childhood is itself being redefined in this kind of assessment. We’re talking here about kindergarten, we’re talking about five-year-olds, and we’re talking about a very serious international plan to assess the intellectual and cognitive development of five-year-olds country by country. But human nature may trump these concerns and defeat these plans because as many who actually know human five-year-olds point out, five-year-olds just might not cooperate with this kind of assessment program.

    Helge Wasmuth, an associate professor of childhood education at Mercy College in New York City said, and said quite helpfully,

    It’s very questionable how meaningful an assessment of 5-year-olds can be.”

    Her final statement,

    “Some kids won’t take it seriously.”

    You think? Students around the world are already assessed at age 15 with what is known as PISA, or the Program for International Student Assessment, and, of course, country by country, almost like the Olympics, countries are trying to make certain that their 15-year-olds are on par with the 15-year-olds of other nations, but not only on par but also gaining ground and intellectually and cognitively superior to the 15-year-olds in other countries. One of the problems with the PISA analysis, and remember we’re dealing there with 15-year-olds, is that it turns out, and this is important from a worldview perspective, that culture by culture and country by country, it turns out the 15-year-olds and their parents and their peers and their countries do not always have the same understanding of what achievement looks like or what education should be or to produce. It’s also interesting to note that in this article there is the acknowledgment that what those who are doing this assessment might actually be assessing is not the children but their parents. The bottom line is that there is something almost surely wrong with an effort either nationally or internationally to decide that we can now assess five-year-olds. Kindergarten used to be understood as one of the last preschool experiences of children, but it has been increasingly turned into school. Childhood is being turned into a business and education is being turned into a career. Christians and Christian parents may be amongst the last on earth who understand that five-year-olds are indeed five-year-olds and are to be respected and even appreciated for the simple glory of being five. It’s a dangerous idea that we can start pigeonholing or even evaluating children at age 5 in terms of their aptitude for the future.”

    • Arg…I started the “blockquote” too late…

      Should have included the earlier lines:

      “…while we’re looking at international stories, the Wall Street Journal this week ran a story with the headline,

      “A Global Test for Kindergartners.”

      Leslie Brody reports that many are asking the question,”

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