I took my share of statistics as a political science major in college. As a teacher and journalist I’ve spent a lifetime asking questions, which can be difficult because no one is objective.
Consider the recent Anti-Defamation League survey on global anti-Semitism.
Jay Michaelson, an ordained rabbi and lifelong Jewish educator, took the survey and writes “I Am 1 Billionth Anti-Semite” on forward.com.
How do some 50,ooo people around the world answer questions such as “Do Jews have too much power in the business world?” Interpretations of the question may be as different as the miles that separate people.
“Well, what’s meant by ‘too much?'” asks Michaelson. “We do certainly have disproportionate power, relative to our population. Do we use it for nefarious, Elders of Zion purposes? No, but that’s not what the question asks. As a purely statistical matter, Jews have ‘too much’ power in the business world relative to our numbers.”
So much of life is about perception. How can you quantify perception? Talk with an individual longer than asking 11 questions that require a yes or no answer.
People participating in a survey may say what they expect the questioner wants to hear.
And what comes out of a person’s mouth at any given moment is only the tip of the iceberg. Any analysis is, at the very least, tricky.
That’s why I worry about surveys.