We’ve beaten this one up before, but it rears its mindless head as if it’s never even *heard* of this blog! Is outrage! So, like people building a civilization, like Charlemagne ruling from the saddle, we are riding off to smack down the Saxons of Ignorance (nice band name!) One. More. Time:
Someone tweets (I really need to give that horrid 140 character god up) this chart from surveys done last year:
Let’s play classroom: Without even going to the Pew site, who can spot problems with this? As with all such rhetorical questions, the foregoing serves one purpose only: to reinforce the teacher’s authority by showing who the good students are – those who supply the answers the teacher wants! Oh, sorry, digression city. Moving on:
The footnote says that these scientifilicious results were obtained via a survey (using an ‘instrument’ no doubt) whereby people were asked such totally non-loaded, non-judgmental questions as: what race are you? How much money do you make? City slicker or country bumpkin? And, BTW, how many books did you read over the last year?
Suppose I’m a hipster city slicker living in Manhattan. I don’t read. But last year, there was some graphic novel all the other cool cats were talking about, so I leafed through it and looked at the pictures.
Well? Did I read one book? Why/why not? Defend your answer!
More important, does the pollster get into a discussion with the hipster over just exactly what qualifies as a ‘book’ and ‘reading’? Oddly, we can answer this: professional or well-trained pollsters do not (I’ve tried to engage pollsters – it just confuses them). The role of leading the witness is left primarily to the writers of the ‘instrument’ – the pollsters themselves see it as their high duty not to, as if their restraint will make this exercise any less ludicrous than it already is.
The same sort of issues exist for almost all the questions: I’m something like 1/32 Cherokee – well? Mixed race? Indian? White? Other? Say I graduated from barber college – is my education level high school? some college? college graduate? I live on the outskirts of the suburbs, so that my nearest neighbors on one side are farmers, but I’m 3 blocks from an art house theater and espresso bar – rural? suburban? Heck, urban?
Another layer: I’m a troublemaker. I ask myself: what degree of honesty do I owe to some schmuck who interrupted my dinner with a phone call the ultimate purpose of which is to establish the Pew Center and its supporters and sycophants as the Smart People with All the Answers? (See what I did there? The answer you get depends a lot on how you ask the question.)
So: Yep, I’m a full-blooded Inuit nuclear physicist making low 7 figures from my career as an underwear model – and I read at least 1,000 books a year from my mountain redoubt.
Prove I’m not.
Bottom line here: if we did not learn from the last election that polls are, at best. treacherously misleading when they are not out and out tools of manipulation, my little essays aren’t going to clear it up.
But those punk Saxons are asking for it.