The enlightenment value of public opinion polling finally became incontrovertible this week. Of course, you wouldn't know that unless we, your humble servants providing news you can use, were constantly deploying our proprietary (and much-maligned) data-mining software to keep you informed 24-7. We call it Brain-Assisted Ocular Scanning of Stuff (BOSOS), or, in commonplace vernacular, reading and thinking.
Reporting on the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, CNN.com informed that, "About a fifth of Americans think federal agents have listened in on their phone calls....Twenty-one percent of the 1,000 adults who replied to the survey...said it was very likely their conversations had been wiretapped....The sampling error for the question was plus or minus 3 percentage points."
That's news, folks, by any criteria, even if it was suppressed because of the beginning of World War III resulting from Danish cartoons and a Texas quail-hunting accident.
While statistical calculation is not our strongest suit, we are reliably instructed by census data that there are 217.8 million adults over the age of 18 in the U.S. Twenty-one percent of that population comes to 45,738,000 people. If polling data do, in fact, represent the views of the population from which the sample is taken, then either this "domestic spying" thing is truly way out of control or you might strongly prefer that every fifth person behind you in the grocery checkout line be somewhere else, like a padded room.
Despite searching semi-diligently, we were unable to find the poll's demographic breakdown for the folks who answered the question, or even the question as asked. To some, those would be trivial issues, but if all 45,738,000 are liberals, for example, we could quickly observe that the spy program is working as intended and move on.
If a substantial percentage of those 45,738,000 adults is gainfully employed, that would explain why you are inclined to run when retail employees ask, "Can I help you?" If a substantial percentage is employed for wages above minimum, that would give you a greater appreciation for those commercials featuring an office full of monkeys (or chimps, they all look the same to us).
Since we have none of that data, we must instead form learned hypotheses at least as informed as those of the medical community that admonished you to eat a low-fat diet or take ginormous calcium supplements for good bone health.
Our hypotheses place us on the horns of a dilemma. There are clearly not enough federal agents in the universe to adequately monitor the incessant phonage of 45,738,000 people (unless, again, they are all liberals, who tend to congregate densely in small places to aid herding and monitoring).
It would seem, then, that only a fraction of those 45,738,000 are really being wiretapped. Pick a number, whatever you think, because the NSA clearly isn't going to tell you. Then, with a heavy heart, contemplate all the rest who only "believe" they are being wiretapped. Millions upon millions upon millions of your fellow countrymen and countrywomen are either paranoid or suffer delusions of grandeur (it's a terrible burden to be too unimportant to be wiretapped) or both.
The President believes we need to strengthen our knowledge of math and science, and while we respect his judgment, we would be remiss if we did not also urge a crash program of mandatory psychiatric treatment, unless, of course, psychiatrists make up a substantial percentage of those who believe they are being wiretapped.Fenruary 16, 2006