I don't like statistics very much. This is, for me, not much of a problem though I don't know exactly how much of a non-problem it is. I also hear that statistics doesn't like me so I feel justified.
I read the news this morning. The hour was early (or late, depending on your schedule) and I recall reading something which made the following claim: "But the broad movement in support of immigration reform has already won the public debate. Two of three Americans support comprehensive and common sense change..." That may not have been the exact article but the sentiment was the same.
I did some mental math, so already I was angry. As of...right...NOW...there are about 314 million people in the United States. Including me. That means that someone had to ask all 314 million of them in order to ascertain who was in favor of immigration reform. Now I know that my memory isn't the greatest, but I really, really don't recall ever having been asked out it. Sure, I get phone calls from research firms asking me about recent movies I have seen or my intake of non-prescription pain medication, but no one has asked me about immigration reform. And you know what? I don't know what I think about it so had they asked me, the ultimate statistic would have to have been altered to reflect that I don't have a firm opinion instead of the Boolean "support" or "don't support." It should have read "Two out of almost three Americans...and then there is this other guy who just isn't sure yet..." But that's not what it said. Clearly, they don't value me and what I have to say. So I have been excluded from the research and this, to my mind, invalidates the study.
I went online to check on this and found no fewer than 10 other current articles making claims about the knowledge or opinions of all Americans. Apparently, they know how much I am aware of health care reform and Small Business Saturday, where I was when Mandela was freed and how I feel about the recent nuclear pact with Iran. All without talking to me? That's a bit presumptuous, don't you think? Well, you should. All those studies? Invalid.
I know what you are going to say -- the researchers identified a sample audience which is a representative microcosm of the whole and extrapolated data from it. Man, you are arrogant and smug. And wrong. These articles don't say that. They don't say "out of a group of random Americans, X% believe that..." or "100 people surveyed -- top 5 answers on the board." The article says that this is a truth about the American people. I'm an American people. I was neither asked nor consulted. My opinion was assigned and not requested.
This is wrong, wrong I say. If newspapers want to know my opinion (and who wouldn't, right?) they need to ask me. Otherwise they do not have my permission to represent my stance on issues of current import. I would suggest that you all change your Facebook statuses to "I officially declare my independence from being statistically abstracted and refuse to allow those with their fingers on the pulse of the nation to touch my privacy parts" in order to protect your autonomy of thought and not have yourself lumped in with some group of mere commoners. I think that you can do that, by law.
So if you see an article which reads "3 out of 4 Americans surveyed believe that a 'nutritious breakfast' is a financial burden" you should know that either I was asked or that somewhere at the end of the article there will be the statement, "Clarification: We did NOT ask Dan so we don't know where he stands on this one."