Getting it right

June 30, 2010

The blogosphere is abuzz this morning with the news that the Daily Kos has accused Research 2000, a polling firm that has supplied weekly polling data to the Daily Kos, of providing data that “wasn’t legit.” Yesterday’s Daily Kos has a post containing a research report by three statisticians (Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman) that concludes “We do not know exactly how the weekly R2K results were created, but we are confident they could not accurately describe random polls.”  The Daily Kos will be suing Research 2000 for fraud.

Nate Silver from the blog fivethirtyeight.com has also voiced his suspicions about Research 2000.  A year ago, Silver brought down another polling firm, Strategic Vision, by showing that its results were likely to have been concocted rather than derived from random polling.

I am fascinated by this controversy in part because I am interested in politics and public policy, and thus interested in what people believe and how these beliefs change over time.

I am also fascinated because this controversy is about truthfulness, about the moral obligation to be as truthful in what you say and write as you possibly can be.  Such regard for truthfulness seems to be in short supply these days in journalism and in the non-science side of the academy.  Too often, perspective and opinion crowd out the pursuit of truth.

And it is ironic, isn’t it, that a passionate regard for truthfulness should break out in the world of polling, in which we are trying to find out peoples’ opinions about states of affairs.  Could we also have a resurgence in the passionate regard for truthfulness in trying to find out about states of affairs themselves?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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