Thursday, May 25, 2006

Statistical Rant

Stardate 59052.6
One of those things I was going to post a while back. You’ve seen something like this a few times, I imagine. They interview 510 people for the results. Not to derogate the article, but 510 is not a statistical sample, and I would judge the results otiose.

My commentary on some of the ‘findings’:
“One-third of respondents couldn’t pinpoint Louisiana on a map and 48 percent were unable to locate Mississippi.”
The obvious follow up question is, which group is larger? I hate when the notation changes. What map was shown? A world map, a US map, a street map of L.A.? I’ll admit to having trouble finding either state on the last one. Is Louisiana a more popular state than Mississippi? Which would they find easier to spell? Can those same 510 respondents pick out Taylor Hicks’ home state?

“Fewer than three in 10 think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14 percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.”

There’s another notation change again. Has geography ever been a popular subject? What percentage of US citizens speak another language? Si habla Espanol? Sprechen sie Deustch? thlingon Hol da’ja’a? Perhaps the networks should broadcast news in a different language each day. Monday is English, Tuesday is Spanish, Wednesday is Hindi, Thursday is Mandarin Chinese, and Friday is Russian. Or the language of the broadcast is done in the language of the news story, i.e. Farsi for Iraq stories, English with a Texan drawl for President Bush.

“Six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.”

”While the outsourcing of jobs to India has been a major U.S. business story, 47 percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.”

”While Israeli-Palestinian strife has been in the news for the entire lives of the respondents, 75 percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.”

Was the response “I don’t know”, or did they miss by some small margin? Is no one listening to news? CNN does show maps.

“Nearly three-quarters incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language.”

The fourth quarter didn’t speak English natively. I would expect bias toward the language you speak. I also suspect if you had them rank the most widely spoken native languages, English would be first, followed by Spanish.

“Six in 10 did not know the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified in the world. Thirty percent thought the most heavily fortified border was between the United States and Mexico.”

Ok, before this, my designation would have been one of the six, and I don’t exactly fill out a catsuit like Seven of Nine. My first answer would have been Sino-Russian, or maybe India-Pakistan. Are they sure the thirty percent were not expressing a wish?

So what’s the answer? Is our educational system broken? I’d answer yes, but I don’t have a better one in mind. Mass dumping of information on a group will ALWAYS leave some of the group out. That’s one of the problems with individualism, no two learn the same way or at the same rate. I can see incontrovertible evidence of this in my own children.

End Of Entry