Bloomberg Recently ran a poll on Twitter that asked, “Do you trust polls?” 77% of people said they did not.
Ignoring the irony of drawing an inference from a poll discovering that 77% of people mistrust polls, what can we learn from this?
Non-scientific polls show only how the people who reply think, and say nothing about the others. People who reply to these polls tend to do so because they are emotionally attached to the answer.
We have an unusual predilection to want to know what average opinion thinks average opinion might be. Our society requires interaction and co-operation and that was a reasonable hope when the interactions were fewer and less nuanced. Today, there is little commonality of education and social experience. There are large groups in society that have too little information to hold opinions on many of the important issues of the day. They have the right to their opinion and polling might show them to hold strong opinions, but strong opinions and the right to hold them does not provide any right to be taken seriously. Polls may validate near insanity and may draw followers to that insanity.
Much of social media delivers trivia or unsupportable opinion.
Polls are an obsolete way to deal with big data. Most of us have no clue how people massage our personal data to provide us with ads on Google or a newspaper site. We are influenced in ways we do not understand and there is little effort to educate us. If we knew the ways, the methods might not work.
Polling does not provide facts. Maybe never did. Opinions are just that. You cannot draw information from a statistical array unless the information is in the array. Polling should provide a point of interest, but to assume that its results are facts and should show a course of action, leads to error.
In Canada, a prime minister from the 1950s and early 60s, John Diefenbaker, had an interesting perspective on polls and their apparent information.
“Dogs know what to do with polls.”
In a world where numbers try to help us understand vast collections of data, we must learn to deal with meaning in a different way. Over-summarized reduces detail and often destroys meaning.
Our problem is there is too much to know and enormously too many interactions. We have too much data and information and far too little knowledge or wisdom. Data and information are mostly worthless without a way to think about them.
Be a little skeptical of averages. Try a little harder to understand what is going on and rely less on statistics, pundits or polls.
The same general ideas apply to investing information and its meaning.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772