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Poll Traumatic Stress Disorder

   My life [other than work] lately has been consumed by politics…or rather, obsessing about politics.  In a previous post, I recommended  And frankly, I still do.  The guys that run it are really trying to summarize the huge mass of data that is accumulating as the political calendar moves toward election day.

   But this isn’t just a statistical exercise for me.  I care deeply about this election.  It is, as Joe Biden says in his “fireside chat” with Hillary Clinton, the most important election that I’ve ever voted in.  Even more than Nixon vs. McGovern.  So, I’ve been caught in a loop of logging on to 538 in the morning, and then spending the rest of the day being either elated or depressed, based on their projections.

   As the folk at DailyKos say, if you’re feeling anxious about the polls, get your butt down to a campaign office and do some work.  Unfortunately, I haven’t made the time to do that.  So I obsess.

  But I’ve had an opportunity to remind myself that “statistics aren’t reality”.  A couple of my friends are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.  So I’ve had a chance to revisit a remarkable essay by Stephen Jay Gould called “The Median Isn’t the Message“.  In it, he talks about his own cancer diagnosis, and the scary news that he got from looking in the medical literature.  And he talks about recruiting his training as a scientist to understand the statistics, and comes to the conclusion that the news isn’t as bad as it seems.   It’s a wonderful essay; I’ll wait until you come back.

  On the way by, he reminds us that the unavoidable part of life is variability–and that summary statistics dismiss that variation as “error”.  So, any particular poll isn’t “reality”.  It’s a poll.  And really, the only one that counts is the one that will happen on November 4.

   I’m going to try not to obsess quite so much.  And to recognize that there are ups and downs; but one thing is to say that it is all part of the process.  It won’t be a simple ticker-tape parade; there is a lot to be done.  So, let me roll up my sleeves and get to work.


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