He has the smartest supporters of all!
USA Today once was a mediocre newspaper that had one virtue: it was convenient for travelers, and sadly more useful for following non-locale news development than all but a handful of city publications. Now it isn’t a newspaper at all, but some hybrid monstrosity that is laid out like a website, has articles too short to be complete or helpful, and a product pandering to those with small vocabularies and attention spans that have been destroyed by the internet. But it’s often free, so on my latest (horrible, miserable, disaster-filled) seminar tour around Virginia, I had the pleasure of opening an edition and seeing what immediately struck me as the kind of feature no respectable journalistic enterprise would tolerate.
USA Today political writer Paul Singer thought newsworthy a ridiculous exercise that could only have sprung from a toxic mix of bias and silliness. It’s objective: let’s either prove that Republicans and conservatives are dumber than their Democrat, liberal counterparts, or prove that an accepted way of measuring intelligence is inaccurate for the purpose, because it doesn’t prove that Republicans are morons, and we all know they are. The feature was called “Democrats crush Republicans in grammar; Chafee on top.”
This is yet another self-rebutting exercise, as proven by the headline. Lincoln Chafee is a well-established boob, as they will tell you, if you ask, in his home base of Rhode Island. The man announced his Presidential run citing his primary cause as getting the U.S. to adopt the metric system. This immediately places him in the long and amusing line of wacko candidates, including…
Homer Aubrey Tomlinson, who was a New York City preacher that ran for the presidency under the banner of the Theocratic Party in five elections, from 1952 until his death in 1968. He wanted to replace taxation with tithing and promised to create a new cabinet post: Secretary of Righteousness. Later, Tomlinson declared himself King of the World and staged coronation ceremonies in 101 different countries, in which he appeared wearing a gold-plated crown, an inflatable globe and a folding chair as his throne. And…
California congressman John G. Schmitz, who was the American Independent Party candidate for president in 1972. He was expelled from the John Birch Society for “extremism,” which sort of says it all. Schmitz also endorsed the return of segregated schools, and later announced that he was rooting for a military coup. Mary Kay Letourneau is his daughter. Then there is…
HRM Caesar St. Augustine de Buonaparte, who is running now as The Absolute Dictator Party’s candidate. He says that all the major politicians are “niggers” and so is everyone else “because we all die on our death bed and watch our offspring fight over our money.” He pledges to replace any government employee who does not have an IQ of at least 150.
So if Chafee has the followers with the most facility with the language, what does it tell us about the usefulness of that factor in assessing, well, anything? It tells me that this was an inquiry designed to embarrass Republicans that failed, but USA Today decided to publish it anyway with big color graphics using up about half a page in a paper that typically has only a couple of pages as substance.
The stunt was the brainchild of some Marketing flack at Grammarly, a writing app that thought it might increase the number of people who ever heard of it from five to nineteen. According to a Grammarly release, using the app on the websites of presidential candidates’ Facebook pages showed that Democratic commenters made an average of 4.2 mistakes per 100 words compared to 8.7 mistakes for supporters of Republican candidates. The Democratic supporters also showed a larger vocabulary, using on average 300 unique words per 1,000 words, while Republicans used only 245. Here was the methodology:
We began by taking a large sample of Facebook comments containing at least fifteen words from each candidate’s official page between April, 2015 and August, 2015. Next, we created a set of guidelines to help limit (as much as possible) the subjectivity of categorizing the comments as positive or negative. Since the point of the study was to analyze the writing of each candidate’s supporters, we considered only obviously positive or neutral comments. Obviously negative or critical comments, as well as ambiguous or borderline negative comments, were disqualified.
We then randomly selected at least 180 of these positive and neutral comments (~6,000 words) to analyze for each candidate. Using Grammarly, we identified the errors in the comments, which were then verified and tallied by a team of live proofreaders. For the purposes of this study, we counted only black-and-white mistakes such as misspellings, wrong and missing punctuation, misused or missing words, and subject-verb disagreement. We ignored stylistic variations such as the use of common slang words, serial comma usage, and the use of numerals instead of spelled-out numbers.
Finally, we calculated the average number of mistakes per one hundred words by dividing the total word count of the comments by the total number of mistakes for each candidate.
There are many problems with this, of course, the primary one being “Who cares?,” followed by “How do you know that the same commenters aren’t writing on the walls of multiple candidates?” “Isn’t this another classist, pro-coastal, elitist exercise?” “Since when is Facebook spelling and grammar an accepted measure of anything?” “How about finding out how many supporters of each candidate read USA Today, or worse, trust it?”
Now there’s an intelligence test.
Why would people waste their time writing on campaign Facebook pages, when almost none of the candidates actually look at them? How do we know the smartest Democratic supporters waste their time on Facebook, while only the dumbest Republican supporters use is? But never mind all the problems with the methodology: Grammarly is a lousy app and doesn’t work. Continue reading →