Letter: Statistics wrong

By The Daily Illini

Will drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) make a big dent in our oil imports? Were most of Bush’s non-evangelical voters opposed to Kerry for moral reasons? A reader of this page in recent days would get completely false answers to these questions (among others), as I describe below. The pattern suggests that you need a fact checker. Given the space limitations of this column, I’d be happy to discuss the data in more detail with anyone interested.

On Nov. 15, Chuck Prochaska made a series of dubious claims, including that oil from ANWR could eliminate 70 percent of our dependence on Persian Gulf imports. Our government generously estimates (www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/ogp/index.html) that ANWR oil production would peak at about 4 percent of our total oil supply, a very small fraction of imports. At that rate ANWR oil would last less than two decades, supplying a tiny fraction of the savings available by easy conservation methods (www.nrdc.org/land/wilderness/arctic.asp).

On Nov. 8, Bridget Sharkey calculated, based on exit polls, that at least 62 percent of voters opposed Kerry on primarily moral grounds even though they were not conservative Christians. She made four major mathematical errors in reading and analyzing the poll data. For example, she wrote that 80 percent of Bush voters cited moral values as their main concern, although the exit polls showed it to be 35 percent (www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html). Sharkey switched the percent of moral-values voters who went for Bush with the percent of Bush voters who cited moral values. That’s like confusing the percent of mortals who are men with the percent of men who are mortals. Plugging the correct poll numbers into her calculation coincidentally would give 0 percent, rather than 62 percent, for the minimum estimate of the voters in the category she described – a recent letter to the editor already recycled the bogus 62 percent number.

These particular factual errors come from writers supporting the Bush administration. Perhaps that should be no surprise, since that same administration recently denounced a reporter for being “a member of the reality-based community” (R. Suskind, NYT,10/17/04) .

Michael Weissman

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