The Daily Bork

August 03, 2005

Lies, damned lies and statistics

There is a survey out from Public Agenda in the US with a general survey of American feelings about a range of stuff. It's reported today in Sweden and NZ, both carrying essentially the same information from Reuters. Of course out of the large range of questions and stats they cherry-pick a few, such as
Sixty three per cent of Americans say the charge that the US has been too quick to go to war is justified
It seems like an awful lot, so if you go to Public Agenda and read the survey results you see the question was
"The US has been too quick to resort to war". Is the accusation justified?
Answers:

35% Totally justified
27% Partially justified
37% Not justified at all
01% Don't know

So, on the basis of the statements in the papers you could also equivalently say with equal legitimacy:

Sixty four per cent of Americans say the charge that the US has been too quick to go to war is only partially justified at best.

or

More than a third of Americans think there is no justification to the charge that the US has been too quick to go to war while nearly another third think the charge is weak.

Looking at the numbers, opinion seems to be evenly spread over the entire spectrum. Roughly matching electoral opinions perhaps?

In other words, there is no apparent sentiment one way or the other about "going to war too quickly".

To be fair on Reuters, they are using the conclusions expressed in the Public Agenda report but it does seem to be a rather lazy way of concluding opinions on the part of Public Agenda.

It doesn't take long to reach the stage of ignoring any survey reports in the press.

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