The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Monday, 27 March 2017

The more we look, the more we don't see

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, Polling, March 2017.

Have a look at these numbers: 54, 53, 52, 52, 55, 53, 53, 52, 55, 55.

These are the estimates of the ALP's two party preferred 'vote' over the last two months for the last ten polls from Newspoll, Essential and Ipsos.

They are also just data points.

If you were to take a simple average of all ten, it would equal 53.4%

What does that tell us? That the ALP has held a solid lead over the Coalition for this political year.

Analysing each poll and the variation between polls and then ascribing 'explanations' for the changes in polling numbers is a pointless exercise.

We saw this occur when there was a 'shift' in voting intentions between the last two Newspolls. A change from 55/45 to 52/48 was an improvement in the Government's position and must have been as a result of the announcement on the Snowy River Hydro scheme. Now we have Ipsos reporting the ALP vote at 55. What must have happened last week to result in that shift?

Nearly seven years ago I wrote the following piece for the Sydney Morning Herald illustrating why this is a pointless exercise (see below).

I include this here today with some reservation because I remember that legend of the Canberra Press Gallery, Alan Ramsey, (a man not afraid of filling his columns with large pieces of quoted material) lamented that he knew it was time to go when he even started quoted himself!

Nevertheless, I shall proceed. Simply because I wouldn't change what I wrote and the point needs to keep being made.

Why that surge in popularity could be a load of balls

APRIL 3 2010

THE most recent Newspoll of federal voting intentions reported the two-party-preferred vote had changed by 4 percentage points since the previous poll.

The ALP had risen from 52 per cent to 56 per cent and the Coalition had fallen from 48 per cent to 44 per cent. This translates to more than half a million voters having changed their vote in the past fortnight. Is this realistic? What if the next Newspoll shows the two-party vote returning to ALP 52 per cent, Coalition 48 per cent? Would this mean over a half a million voters would have changed again? The short answer is: it's very unlikely.

This may be the one poll in 20, or 5 per cent, that is outside the pollsters' 95 per cent confidence range, termed a rogue poll, and so is unreliable.

However, if we assume this poll is not a rogue then the suggested change in vote may or may not be real. If we assume it's real, then the results indicate a trend towards the ALP with a magnitude of 4 percentage points - a very large and statistically unlikely figure. A trend towards the ALP is possible but the most likely explanation is that the change in voting intentions is as a result of sampling variation and so most probably represents an illusion.

Sampling variation is the unavoidable variation in results that occurs from poll to poll because we are polling a sample of the population and not the whole electorate. It is the most common explanation for changes in polling numbers, yet is the most misrepresented.

Consider the following example: imagine you have a bag of 100 balls, 50 black and 50 white. You randomly select 10 balls from the bag. For your sample to accurately reflect the 50/50 split between the white balls and the black balls, you should have pulled out five white balls and five black, but you would not be at all surprised if you pulled out only three white balls and seven black. You would put it down to a chance variation in the sample. You would not immediately assume that while the bag did originally have 50 white balls and 50 black balls, the make-up of balls in the bag had now changed to 30 white and 70 black to reflect the sample.

Equally, if after replacing the first sample your next sample pulled out seven white balls and only three black, you would not be surprised and would put it down to a chance variation. You would not believe that the make-up of the balls in the bag had changed once more to now be 70 white and 30 black to reflect the new sample and would understand that it is the samples of 10 that are varying, not the original 100.

In other words, you would not conclude that the make-up of the balls in the bag was ''volatile'', first ''swinging'' to the black balls and then back to the white balls. In political terms these sampling variations tend to be seen as a ''poll surge'' followed by a ''poll slump'', but are more likely to be a statistical illusion. In a poll it is possible that reported changes in voting intentions, compared with the last poll, are accurate reflections of shifts in the mood of the population, but it is more probable that it is just sampling variation.

This highlights the problems associated with poll-to-poll analysis and reinforces the need to examine polling data over time. With this Newspoll, the most sensible approach would be to wait for another few polls from at least two pollsters before drawing any definitive conclusions. However, this won't occur, because the political world, participants and observers alike, is obsessed with using polling as a real-time measure of the state of the political parties. Thus every movement, big or small, must mean something. Consumed by the 24-hour news cycle, the political world assumes the real world is equally consumed and therefore poll movements must reflect the voters' response to the last fortnight's political events.

There is a Latin phrase, ''astra non mentiuntur sed astrologi bene mentiuntur de astris'', that translates as ''the stars never lie but the astrologers lie about the stars''.

Just as the astrological world is confident there is meaning in the movement of the stars, the political world is equally confident that there is meaning in the movement of the polls. As for those in the real world, they believe there is meaning only when it says what they want to hear.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Delusions of grandeur: compare and contrast

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, Tony Abbott's delusions, March 2017.

The number of people Tony Abbott believes are interested in his views on anything:

The number of people who actually are:


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The light of hope in her eyes

Fellow citizens,

"I'll never forget, the people I met, braving those angry skies. I remember well, as the shadows fell, the light of hope in their eyes."

Dame Vera Lynn has turned 100 years old. Happy Birthday to the "Forces Sweetheart".

The light of hope still burns ever so brightly in her eyes.

Bless them all

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Groucho wisdom on President Trumple

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: United States, President Trumple, Groucho Marx wisdom, March 2017.

"Gentleman this man may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you - he really is an idiot!"

Watch Groucho utter those immortal words on YouTube here: 


Friday, 17 March 2017

An unremarkable position on unjust laws

Fellow citizens,

So much drivel written and spoken in the last few days about the 'rule of law' and how disobeying laws will lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.

Oh! What a load of old cobblers!

My advice to those getting hysterical?

Sally McManus said nothing remarkable or outrageous or treasonous.

This is what she said:

"I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and and the law is right. But when it's unjust I don't think there's a problem with breaking it."

The response from politicians and some in the media was beyond hysterical.

It was laughable.

Here's three undesirables who expressed similarly shocking views. 

So please get a grip.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Compassion: Heart, mind and spirit.

Fellow citizens,

At all times, and for all times, it is important to remember that it is compassion that defines humans. For it is true that "compassion is the basis of morality." (Shopenhauer)

Compassion in our heart, mind and spirit.

In our heart:

"The dew of compassion is a tear." Lord Byron

In our mind:

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein.

In our spirit:

"Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek." Dalai Lama

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

She walks in beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

Blog Archive

Our home

Our home
Earthrise over the moon (click on picture to view film)

The pale blue dot

The pale blue dot
Earth viewed from Saturn (click on picture to view film clip)

Our neighbourhood

Our neighbourhood
The Solar System (click on picture to view film)

Our Home Galaxy

Our Home Galaxy
The Milky Way (click on picture to view film)

A sister galaxy

A sister galaxy
Andromeda (click on picture to view film)

Another sister galaxy

Another sister galaxy
Triangulum (click on picture to view short film clip)

The Local Group of Galaxies

The Local Group of Galaxies
Our Galactic Neighbourhood (click on picture to view film clip).

Our farthest view of the Universe

Our farthest view of the Universe
Hubble's farthest view (click on picture to view film clip)

The virgo super cluster of galaxies

The virgo super cluster of galaxies
Galaxies within 100 million light years (click on picture to view film clip)

Galaxies within 1 billion light years

Galaxies within 1 billion light years