Thursday, November 6, 2008

Crashing Online Polls--Sometimes You Just Gotta Say: "What the Heck?"

Simon Owens has published an interesting article on A week or so ago PBS published an online poll asking whether Sarah Palin was qualified. I had been alerted about the poll via e-mail and posted the e-mail on this blog. I also voted. Simon points out that FreeRepublic had posted a message that "conservatives" (I consider myself a Jacksonian radical, but "conservative" will do) should crash the poll, and that's probably how I heard of it (i.e., indirectly from one of the many Freepers whom I respect, admire and turn to for advice). Learning that conservatives were crashing the poll, Professor PZ Myers of Pharyngula mounted a counter-offensive. Myers is a scientist who correctly points out the many biases and threats to the validity of online polls.

Myers says:

"If you look at the major networks' coverage of the election, for instance, what you find is that they turn it into a horse race...All they report is who's ahead, who's behind and by how much. It is distracting and detracts from the coverage of the actual issues."

Issues? What issues? When was the last time you heard discussion of monetary policy on PBS? Probably in 1836, when Jackson was still president.

However, Joel Schwartzbert of the website that ran the poll does not claim that online polls are representative. Article author Owens points out about the Palin poll I crashed:

"To date, more than 50 million votes have been registered on the poll, both from constant freeping and from bots running rampant and falsely inflating the numbers. Eventually, NOW changed the poll to track a user's cookie so they could only vote one time per computer."

Maybe the guys over at PBS haven't heard of Webroot's Window Washer. Sorry to break the news to you, Simon, but no cookie is going to be able to stop the Freepers!

Given the extreme biases in the American news media I would not make much of an issue out of an online poll. In fact, I would claim that if Fox, CBS, NBC, PBS, etc. permitted online voting as to whether the viewers think that the announcers are full of baloney, the instant feedback would improve things.

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