Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What Opinion Polls Teach Us About Data Versus Truth

Nick Bahr
What Opinion Polls Teach Us About Data Versus Truth

In today’s society, public polling and opinion polls have transformed into bias assumptions distributed by partial organizations in attempt to mislead and sway the public into thinking a specific candidate has made progress or lost ground. What the public does not know is that many of these polling reports have so many caveats in their footnotes, the data is basically useless to the general public. For example, when someone checks their Facebook newsfeed they may see a particular poll, shared by one of their friends, that has Trump overtaking Clinton in the closing weeks of the election. However, if one were to dig deeper into the data they may find that the poll was made up of ninety-percent Republican voters, five-percent Green Party voters and five-percent Democratic voters. This is exactly the problem, Kalev Leetaru, the author of “What Opinion Polls Teach Us About Data Versus Truth” is trying to emphasize. He explains that in today’s world, with so much data being collected, “data illiteracy” is creating an ill-informed society that does not truly grasp what the data is telling them and whether the data is valid or not.

            I believe that Mr. Leetaru argument that data illiteracy leads to an ill-informed society is true and have personally seen how bias opinion polls can sway the opinions of the public and leave many people mislead. Much like the example in the article, when I log onto social media, as I scroll down my newsfeeds I can find countless polling reports shared by peers, all showing vastly different results. In the comments, you can read one person arguing that their poll is true and another arguing that their poll is true. However, the problem behind these polls, is exactly what Mr. Leetaru is talking about, many people mistake data for the truth in today’s society. In many cases data, whether it is a political poll or a customer’s rating at a restaurant, is skewed in favor of the organization that offered the poll. These organizations can do this because they do not expect people to truly understand the data. They expect a society, which revolves so much around Big Data and technology, to see the numbers and results presented and simply take it as facts and unfortunately this often holds true.
            In conclusion, Mr. Leetaru’s article shows us that as society continues to collect Big Data and base many of their opinions off this data, they may want to evaluate the information to ensure they understand where it is coming from and if it is truly valid. In the future, if society continues this trend of simply using data, that most closely resembles their opinion, as fact it will lead to a misinformed culture that is ultimately viewed as ignorant by those who take the time to understand the real facts and actually decipher the data in use.

Leetaru, Kalev. "What Opinion Polls Teach Us About Data Versus Truth." Forbes. Forbes    Magazine, 08 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016


  1. I myself find this article accurate. Most people are data illiterate because they do not take the time to research the data and information behind the data for themselves. This is why people have such a wide spectrum of what is true and what is not true. People need to make sure that the sources they use are reliable and provide accurate data, not just some data that is completely skewed one way or another. A perfect example is this past election that just occurred. Most people were under the assumption that the polls were so accurate that everyone knew who the next president was going to be. What people do not realize is that not everyone likes to participate in polls, so therefore the data is already missing a significant amount of data from those who do not participate. It also depends on which media or news is being watched because their data and information is skewed/ catered towards one party over the other such as FOX and CNN. People cannot believe everything that they are told and presented to be fact. There needs to be an understanding that they are not being presented with the whole picture but merely a small piece of it. Overall I liked this article as it can be related to todays society in a scary but true way.

  2. After the election last week, I found it particularly interesting how the many polls conducted by various establishments were misleading. Nick’s article What Opinion Polls Teach Us About Data Versus Truth, addressed that concern. I found it interesting that the article stated that public interest in polls has significantly increased over the past few years, however they have also become increasingly more inaccurate.

    The article showed that though polls are conducted using the data that the surveyors provide, they can still often be misleading due to the fact that the data can be skewed or tare somewhat biased. The article states that “even scientific datasets reflect the biases of experimental design and the limitations of the equipment and sensors used and these biases can change over time.” I found this a bit confusing, because in my experience science and data are pretty straight forward, how can you forge numbers right? However, this article shows that the data often doesn't account for everyone, and only polls a certain demographic. According to statistics it is important to always survey a board population and make sure that the population being surveyed is unbiased and not of the same, age, gender, ethnicity, or in the case of the election political party. As Nick stated in his blog post, a Facebook poll may have shown that Trump was in the lead however, if we looked deeper into the poll we might have found that over 95% of the poll takers were Republicans.

    After reading the article I realized that the misleading poll results are due to the fact that often there is data illiteracy and this leads to a mislead society view. And though the data and the polls all made it seem that a Clinton win was 90% possible, the election proved otherwise. Although, many Americans believed that the polls were an accurate representation of actually election results, we have found that data can be misleading regardless of what it is used for.

    I found this article even more interesting based off the article I wrote on which showed that Hillary Clinton used big data analytics to immensely help her campaign. Perhaps the fact that Clinton’s campaign understood the data analytics and how polls worked can account for why we saw a Clinton lead in most polls. Like the article stated that as society develops we have access to more and more data however we understand less and less about the world due to data illiteracy.

  3. This was an interesting read for me. Obviously, people have heard of being illiterate, but I had never really thought about applying that word to data. Sure, most people do not really understand data as well as those who study or rely on it, however it is astounding how many people have numbers put in front of them and they just believe what the numbers say without looking further into the matter. I think it should cross everybody’s mind to question the validity or meaning behind a set of data. We are always told to question everything, and why should data be any different. An interest in data is not for everyone, but knowing the importance behind numbers, especially the ones brought to your attention in anyway, is all part of being informed and knowing things. People, especially voters, should want to make informed decisions and being informed means knowing what polls and data to pay attention to and which ones are useless and should be ignored completely.
    On the flip side, knowing that there is an abundance of “data illiterate” people in the world, it would be smart of those who are trying to promote an agenda to use this to their advantage. The blog post talks about how the data can be skewed and mislead the people looking at them to think one thing when in reality it is only a very incomplete look over the whole picture. These skewed public and opinion polls can be a tool for those promoting their agenda because people see who or what is in the lead and may think, well if this is where the majority lies than I’ll just go with the majority. Pulling those undecided in favor of their agenda/issue. Though these may be impartial and further perpetuate data illiteracy, it is not illegal.
    I appreciate that Nick wrote this blog post to call out the public about the abundance of data illiterate people in this country. We all have access to mass amounts of data and knowledge, things that other people in less educated countries would feel appreciative to have, and we choose not to pay attention to it. I think that it is our generations duty to take note of this and promote the benefits of making informed decisions so that we can set a better example for the generations after us and create a more well-rounded society.


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