Dan Collins of Protein Wisdom has declared today, Friday the 13th, to be National Iowahawk Day. Iowahawk is also known as Dave Burge, who writes the funniest political satire ever and who would definitely be snapped up by a major media company if only he were not, well, a conservative who excels at making them look foolish. I am celebrating this hilarious occasion with Iowahawk’s video above and the link here to Iowahawk’s own selection of his top 25 columns.
My personal favorite Iowahawk post is “Balls and Urns” from October 2008 about the vagaries of political polling. Here’s a sample:
This is, for all intents and purposes, how political pollsters compute the mysterious “margin of error,” which has everything to do (and only to do) with pure mathematical sampling error. If you look at the formula above and round it just a smidge, you get a simple rule of thumb for the margin of error of a sampled probability:
Margin of Error = 1 / sqrt(n)
So if the sample size is 400, the margin of error is 1/20 = 5%; if the sample size is 625 the margin of error is 1/25 = 4%; if the sample size is 1000, it’s about 3%.
Works pretty well if you’re interested in hypothetical colored balls in hypothetical giant urns, or survival rates of plants in a controlled experiment, or defects in a batch of factory products. It may even work well if you’re interested in blind cola taste tests. But what if the thing you are studying doesn’t quite fit the balls & urns template?
- What if 40% of the balls have personally chosen to live in an urn that you legally can’t stick your hand into?
- What if 50% of the balls who live in the legal urn explicitly refuse to let you select them?
- What if the balls inside the urn are constantly interacting and talking and arguing with each other, and can decide to change their color on a whim?
- What if you have to rely on the balls to report their own color, and some unknown number are probably lying to you?
- What if you’ve been hired to count balls by a company who has endorsed blue as their favorite color?
- What if you have outsourced the urn-ball counting to part-time temp balls, most of whom happen to be blue?
- What if the balls inside the urn are listening to you counting out there, and it affects whether they want to be counted, and/or which color they want to be?
If one or more of the above statements are true, then the formula for margin of error simplifies to
Margin of Error = Who the hell knows?
You can buy Iowahawk a beer to celebrate his day by contributing to the Beer Fund here. And this is so cool — you can include a message with your tip.
Note to cynics: I really do love Iowahawk. As you can see from my “About Me” page that he was the first to recognize me for my work in thinking about blogging in 2008, which was so encouraging because I didn’t actually start this blog until Jan. 12, 2009. And the fact that I want him to include my blog in his “League of Super Friends” blogroll with the passionate hot heat of a thousand thousand suns has nothing to do with this celebration of him whatsoever. Really. Buy him a beer. For the children.