Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Too Many Blows to the Head

There may soon be a new simile in American English: "dumb as a Huffington Post," because "dumb as a post" just doesn't say enough. Ryne, on his blog, has a pointer to this gem from Jim Lampley, called The Biggest Story of Our Lives. Apparently, he has some association with boxing, which could explain a lot:
"At 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on Election Day, I checked the sportsbook odds in Las Vegas and via the offshore bookmakers to see the odds as of that moment on the Presidential election. John Kerry was a two-to-one favorite. You can look it up."
Let's see, that would be about the time the inaccurate exit polls were all over the blogosphere and the media. Why would anyone want to bet on Kerry to win at that point?
"People who have lived in the sports world as I have, bettors in particular, have a feel for what I am about to say about this: these people are extremely scientific in their assessments. These people understand which information to trust and which indicators to consult in determining where to place a dividing line to influence bets, and they are not in the business of being completely wrong."
The objective of the oddsmakers is always to get equal amounts of money on each side of the bet. The house rakes in the commission with no risk, because there is no exposure to the outcome. The losers pay off the winners. If the money starts to flow disproportionately to one side of the bet, they raise the odds until it equalizes again. [Jim, in case you're reading this, "disproportionately" means "unevenly."] They do need to stay on top of those kinds of trends rapidly to avoid exposure, but they don't try to predict the winner, just how people will bet. It's incredible that someone who passes himself off as a sports "expert" would not know that.
"Oddsmakers consulted exit polling and knew what it meant and acknowledged in their oddsmaking at that moment that John Kerry was winning the election."
It's hard to tell for sure, but we don't think he's suggesting the oddsmakers ran their own exit polls. We didn't hear anything about another set of exit polls from oddsmakers existing, let alone giving the same flawed results as the ones the network pool commissioned.

We can safely assume that the oddsmakers, to the extent they were looking at exit polls, were looking at the same ones as everyone else. So since everyone at that point thought Kerry was on the way to a massive win, what a surprise: the odds reflected that opinion.
"And he most certainly was, at least if the votes had been fairly and legally counted. What happened instead was the biggest crime in the history of the nation, and the collective media silence which has followed is the greatest fourth-estate failure ever on our soil."
So the actually voting and counting at thousands of locations, supervised by officials from both parties was faked, and the small sample polling done by a few people at a few places is reliable!
"Many of the participants in this blog have graduate school educations. It is damned near impossible to go to graduate school in any but the most artistic disciplines without having to learn about the basics of social research and its uncanny accuracy and validity."
The wording here suggests that other HuffinPosters have told him this, and we can believe them, because they've been to graduate school. Some of them have even taken social science classes!

We particularly love the part about "social research and its uncanny accuracy and validity." This guy should be doing standup comedy instead of boxing.
"We know that professionally conceived samples simply do not yield results which vary six, eight, ten points from eventual data returns, thaty's [sic] why there are identifiable margins for error. We know that margins for error are valid, and that results have fallen within the error range for every Presidential election for the past fifty years prior to last fall. NEVER have exit polls varied by beyond-error margins in a single state, not since 1948 when this kind of polling began. In this past election it happened in ten states, all of them swing states, all of them in Bush's favor. Coincidence? Of course not."
Exit polls have not been in use in presidential elections for 50 years. According to Zogby in this article, that began in the 1970s.

We're fairly certain Lampley would not be able to explain the meaning of the "margin of error" of a poll in a statistically correct way. In essence, it means that if the poll were run again the same way there is a 95% chance the results would be within the stated "margin of error." This assumes "normal" distribution of error, and it only really deals with sampling error. Any bias in the sampling methodology of a poll or in the way the questions are asked can greatly affect the results. Badly done polls exceed the stated margin of error all the time, and even the best polls are expected to exceed it 5% of the time.

Since all the polls were done by the same group of pollsters and the results shared by all the media outlets, there is really only one set of polls here. Voter opinions were sampled at a relatively small number of places that were known in advance (although "secret"). Could Kerry operatives have gotten access to location information and deliberately skewed the exit polls to give Kerry a bounce? It's unlikely, but more plausible than the nationwide vote-fraud conspiracy Lampley is peddling.
"Karl Rove isn't capable of conceiving and executing such a grandiose crime? Wake up. They did it."
Just think, if only Karl had be clever enough to cook the exit polls while he was at it, his scheme would have been completely undetectable!
"The silence of traditional media on this subject is enough to establish their newfound bankruptcy."
I'm not sure why the traditional media's bankruptcy is "newfound." We've known about it for years. Evidently Lampley just found it.
"The revolution will have to start here. I challenge every other thinker at the Huffington Post: is there any greater imperative than to reverse this crime and reestablish democracy in America? Why the mass silence? Let's go to work with the circumstantial evidence, begin to narrow from the outside in, and find some witnesses who will turn. That's how they cracked Watergate. This is bigger, and I never dreamed I would say that in my baby boomer lifetime."
Hmmm. The "mass silence" involves a lot of talking and writing about this dead horse, especially given the complete lack of evidence. "Every other thinker on the Huffington Post"--Talk about an exclusive group. We'll bet they can all fit in one compact car, perhaps even a two-seater. What kind of odds can we get on that bet?

Update 5/11: Ryne has an update on Byron York fisking Lampley's post. This was done right on the Huffington site itself. Evidently, we have at least one "thinker" on there, so we have a driver for the car.

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