Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The few are enough...

As most of you know, I do not and have not participated in phone surveys of any sort for a decade or more. I have always suspected that I was not alone - and I'm not. But counter-intuitively, declining participation rates do not appear to be affecting results as much as I thought.
This is not to say that declining response rates are without consequence. One significant area of potential non-response bias identified in the study is that survey participants tend to be significantly more engaged in civic activity than those who do not participate, confirming what previous research has shown.2 People who volunteer are more likely to agree to take part in surveys than those who do not do these things. This has serious implications for a survey’s ability to accurately gauge behaviors related to volunteerism and civic activity. For example, telephone surveys may overestimate such behaviors as church attendance, contacting elected officials, or attending campaign events.However, the study finds that the tendency to volunteer is not strongly related to political preferences, including partisanship, ideology and views on a variety of issues. Republicans and conservatives are somewhat more likely than Democrats and liberals to say they volunteer, but this difference is not large enough to cause them to be substantially over-represented in telephone surveys. [More]

This unexpected (for me) result does confirm my belief that farmers - well, a lot more in all professions - need to make statistics and probability courses a higher priority when in college. Of course, that daisy-chains back to taking calculus, I would guess, which has been a big hurdle for freshmen of all flavors.

But just notice how many of the debates within and without agriculture are based on public surveys or estimates of probable outcomes. Unless we have better tools to comprehend and utilize such information, we will be limited for the most part to trial-and-error. That doesn't strike me as competitive in a word where quants deploy algorithms to outfox our instincts in the marketplace. 

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