Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No. No. No.

Maybe I'm being persnickety. An annoying methodologist. An asshat. But as someone who teaches graduate level public opinion and who is a poll nerd, I hate it when professional journalists screw up a story based on survey results. I hate it less when students screw up. They're learning, after all. And the students did a helluva job on deadline following up on some live, breaking stuff involving a local ATF shooting. Kudos for that. Nicely done.

So today, GradyNewsource reported the results of a completely bogus and bullshit online poll about UGA's tobacco ban. Here's a brief online version of the results, but I can't point to the video package. The students had ample warning. I first blogged about it here on Tuesday, and then warned them again today here.

From Newsource:
ATHENS, Ga- We asked. You answered.  The tobacco ban goes into effect on UGA’s campus today. What do people really think about this ban? More than 50 percent of people think the ban will not be effective. More than 75 percent think health will improve because of the ban. 65 percent of those polled believe the tobacco ban will not be sucessfully (sic) enforced on campus.
Yes, they successfully misspelled successfully.

On air, the reporter stood in front of a a set of bar charts outlining the results. But -- he offered not a single explanation of how the poll was conducted, when it was conducted, or a margin of error, or how many people even participated. This misleads the audience into thinking it was a legitimate, scientific poll.

I don't want to regurgitate my previous posts. Go read them to understand SLOPs and why they suck, and why journalists should never ever rely on them for a news story.

Even a real poll should have its methodological details revealed in the story. These are the basics. Hell, they're the bare minimum. But for a SLOP they're meaningless because a self-selected opinion poll, quite simply, has no meaning. There's no randomness to the sample. People can vote multiple times. I know. I filled it out four times, and someone else told me they did it 20 times.

Again, in fairness, these are students learning the craft. And these students never had me for jour3410 in which I carefully explain about polls, how to report them, how to know a good one from a bad one, and how to never trust a SLOP.

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