26 April 2011

Polls: ignore them.

Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | *Compassion, by the Pound*

That is the new book by F. Bailey Norwood and Jayson L. Lusk, and the subtitle is The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare. A few facts:

[...]

2. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe that housing chickens in cages is not humane (p.344).
I believe it is socially irresponsible to conduct surveys and publicize the results if the question presuppose the fantasy that trade-offs do not exist. A question like that must take a form similar to "The cost of cage-raised and cage-free chicken averages $X and $Y per pound. Is it morally acceptable to raise chickens in cages?"

If you don't admit the existence of trade-offs in poll questions than you can't interpret them as "Z% of Americans think we should..." but only as "Z% of Americans think it would be swell if..."

I have not read this book, nor the research it draws upon, so perhaps the authors involved have not made this error, but certainly many do and this is as good a time as any to point it out and bitch about it on the internet.

This is just one more reason my default setting is to disregard polls. The Economist had another one last week:
The French seem simultaneously to hold two conflicting views. When asked if they backed the strikes [protesting raising the retirement age], a majority said yes. When asked in the same poll whether raising the retirement age was “responsible towards future generations”, 70% also said yes. In other words, the French temperamentally liked the idea of protest, not least as a way of snubbing Mr Sarkozy. But, at the same time, they knew that raising the retirement age to 62, when the Greeks were being told to stay at their desks till 65, was the reasonable thing to do. “Public opinion”, comments Ms Lagarde [France's Minister of Finance], “is much more mature than people think.”
Emphasis mine.

And hold on one hot second. Holding completely conflicting views is "mature"? I suppose demanding to both have and eat one's cake must be the height of adulthood then.  God protect me from unnecessary exposure to politicians, the French, and especially French politicians.

No comments:

Post a Comment