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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I would like to retract part of my Oklahoma post from last week

by folkbum

I stand by a lot of what I wrote in that post last week: There is inherent value in empowering workers and in educating our children well, and that a better-educated workforce is more likely both to be organized and to be good at what it does.

However, I cited in that post the results of a survey done by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs suggesting that Okie high school students are impossibly dumb. The impossibility of that should have made me more skeptical--indeed, I quote my wife's incredulity--and I regret using the results, especially given some new information.

The survey was contracted out to an outfit called Strategic Vision LLC, a polling and public relations firm that, among other things, does a lot of polling in Wisconsin, too. However, it seems that Strategic Vision has been coming under fire lately for its lack of transparency (Mark Blumenthal at has a good rundown of the matter) and Nate Silver at has come close to suggesting that Strategic Vision just makes up its numbers out of thin air.

Yesterday, Silver also went after that Oklahoma survey I used in that post:
When I first saw these results a couple weeks ago, they really got my spidey sense tingling. Forget about the overall level of knowledge being low -- what I found strange was that there were no students, out of 1,000, who answered as many of eight out of the ten questions correctly. Isn't there some total nerd in Tulsa, some AP Honors student in Stillwater, who was able to answer at least eight of these ten very basic questions correctly? The distribution seems to be too compact.

[glossing over the part with math and graphs]

I'm not sure if there's any a priori way to know what the underlying distribution of responses "should" be. [. . .] It seems quite strongly possible, nevertheless, that the students polled for this survey don't exist anywhere in Oklahoma but instead on a hard drive somewhere in Atlanta. This is a valuable exercise undertaken by the OCPA. But they owe it to the hardworking students of Oklahoma to make sure that their contractor, Strategic Vision, didn't flunk its own citizenship test.
Strategic Vision is often described as a partisan (Republican) pollster and it does a lot of work for Republican candidates and conservative causes. I would be very concerned, if I were a conservative in Wisconsin relying on Strategic Vision for anything, about whether or not I was getting real results--or just something the pollster made up.

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