Monday, February 09, 2004

crimes of surveying, continued

A reader from March, MA alerted me to this question currently being asked of college basketball fans on
Which team has the best chance to finish the regular season unbeaten?

Saint Joseph's (45.9% of answers so far)
Stanford (20.3%)
Both (6.7%)
Neither (27.0%)
As the reader points out, the question as worded would seem to have three answers: either Saint Joseph's has the best [sic?] chance, Stanford has the best chance, or they would both have the same chance. There could be a fourth category for "don't know," I suppose, and a fifth for "don't care," et cetera. But, as you can see, this is not what the poll has done. Instead, they allow to choose either that both teams have the best chance of winning, or that neither team has the best chance. What are they thinking? The reader from March supposes that the question is asking a different question than the question one is supposed to read into the answer categories (the latter being something like 'Which of these teams will finish the regular season unbeaten?'). Could be. A separate but closely related possibility is that the espn.go pollsters intended this to be a half-full/half-empty semantics-measurement question, where the readers can interpret exactly equal probabilities as meaning either that both teams should be regarded as having the best chance or that neither does. An entirely different possibility, on the other hand, is that the pollsters use of "best" is the grammatical gaffe it might seem. Instead, perhaps "neither" is meant to suggest the possibility that the reader believes there is another team out there, who, despite having been 'beaten' according to the standards of NCAA record-keeping, is in reality 'unbeaten' and more likely than either Saint Joseph or Stanford to remain so.

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