01/08/05 — Dubious Data: Voter-IQ story is winner. (Or would that be loser?)

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Dubious Data: Voter-IQ story is winner. (Or would that be loser?)

The Chicago Tribune uses consultants each year to compile a list of winners of its Dubious Data Awards — the biggest goofs in the reporting of stories that don’t really exist.

These are the kind of stories that usually are based on vaguely identified sources. Watch out for the ones in which the information is purported to come from unnamed “experts,” “observers” or “scientists.” If the source isn’t clear, move on to another story.

The very biggest of the booboos gets the Tribune’s “Who’s Stupid Now Award.” This year, the winners, if that’s what you call them, were the newspapers and broadcasters who reported so-called data from an analysis of the 2000 presidential election.

According to this study, the states with high average IQs among their citizens voted for Democrat Al Gore. States where the average IQ was low went for Republican George Bush.

As it turned out, no such analysis had been made. This was just a big old Internet hoax.

The obvious intent was to discourage people from voting for Bush in the 2004 election. After all, who wants to vote with a bunch of dummies? And if the smart folks are going with the other guy, wouldn’t he be the best?

Many people would put more trust in someone else’s judgment than their own.

And many in the media can be snookered, too.

The Tribune reported that the Reuters news service carried a story saying that the Dec. 26 tsunamis were caused by global warming — even though the theory of global warming is in dispute, especially by those poor folks in the Midwest and Northeast who are digging out of a winter storm.

The attribution in this story read like this: “Scientists say ....” What scientists? The story never said.

That story didn’t make the list because it happened after the entries were closed out. Maybe next year.

Others that did make it included the election-day report by just about all of the television networks that Sen. John Kerry was beating Bush for president, which was based on the media’s own exit polls.

That calls to mind a maxim attributed to Mark Twain: Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.

Published in Editorials on January 8, 2005 11:44 PM