Opinion Polls and Their Biases

I am getting better and better on how to avoid biases in polls. 

I have been reading things this year that are helping me learn where I, we, human beings are likely to go wrong in interpreting data.  Here is a letter I sent to my sister, on the occasion of her forwarding a Newt Gingrich document with some opinions that totally lacked any information on the sampliing (size or composition) and its biases:

 
We, humans, myself included are prone to question things that we agree with *far* less than things we do not agree with.  The same would happen for me if I found some opinion poll that was based on a sample that agreed with my views, which of course, this does not – not remotely.
 
 
For more information on things like sample biases, and opinions about what will and won’t work I can recommend about 3 books that I’ve found very educational on how to interpret things like what you sent.
 
There is almost no bias here toward any position, just research on humans and how we make decisions and form opinions.
 
 
1.  How We Know What Isn’t So:  The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life  – Thomas Gilovich
 
http://www.amazon.com/How-Know-What-Isnt-Fallibility/dp/0029117062/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225307799&sr=8-1
 
2.  On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You Are Not  – Robert Burton 
 
http://www.amazon.com/Being-Certain-Believing-Right-Youre/dp/0312359209/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225307856&sr=1-1
 
3.  Stumbling on Happiness – Daniel Gilbert
 
http://www.amazon.com/Stumbling-Happiness-Daniel-Gilbert/dp/1400077427/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225307948&sr=1-1
 
 
and then this one, maybe, which I have not read, but have on order:
 
4.  Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
 
http://www.amazon.com/Blink-Power-Thinking-Without/dp/B001G60FSY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225307988&sr=1-1
 
 
 
I think it is good to learn how to think through these things and make decisions before we are railroaded by poorly-done studies and emotionally charged rhetoric that sways us because we already agree with something.

I may have already posted this elsewhere, but another important piece is to understand and notice Logical Fallacies. Here are two excellent links:

 http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/logic.html

It is interesting to me how anyone who agrees with what that document (or voter information or advertisements or the news  or  . . . ) says might not question the validity of the sampling.

If we learned how to evaluate these things, at least by high school, I think it would help tremendously with things like how to vote.
 
Love,
Stacy

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