The POTW: Verse Til It Hurts
I read an article earlier this week, about the big scandal at the IRS, where they were apparently profiling(!), based on the idea that vocal tax protestors might be more likely to apply for tax-exempt status on shaky grounds than other people might. Say whatever you like about that, what caught my interest was not so much the scandal itself but some statistics used in the article, to the effect that Tea Party groups waited up to x amount of time for tax-exempt status, while liberal groups got theirs done in as little as y amount of time. Now, I get the point they're trying to make, but if you don't immediately see what's wrong with that sentence, note that it compares a maximum value for one group with a minimum value for another group, in a way that tells the reader nothing. Consider this statement: "The people who live on the west side of my street grow as tall as six foot five, while those who live on the east side are as small as four foot ten." The way I worded that makes it seem like there's some kind of weird height differential (and maybe there is), but all the facts actually tell you is that the smallest person on one side of the street is much smaller than the tallest person on the other side. No big surprise, she's probably a lot smaller than the tallest person on her own side, too. Unless I compare tallest to tallest or (preferably) say something about the average, you haven't learned anything interesting about the heights of the people on my street.
The sentence appeared in a reputable publication, which I won't name, because in general it's quite good and does not contain that kind of manipulative use of facts. But this time it did, and I got all steamed up about statistics being used improperly, which they are at least 68% of the time, and I was going to write a poem making fun of it.
But... then I went outside to go look at some baby ducks before writing, and I'm paying for that decision now, so, even though the introduction is about statistical data points, this week's poem is about something entirely different:
Full of Nature
My sinuses are full of nasty nature
Copyright © 2013 by Dave Grossman
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