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Marine Way Bridge

This 2,416th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2019.

Spring

This 2,415th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2019.

Balancing an egg on end

There’s a quaint Chinese legend which says that raw eggs can be stood on end at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes—that is, today. I first came across this in season four of The West Wing, in the appropriately named episode Evidence of Things Not Seen.

Most superstitions try to convince people that the impossible can happen under specific circumstances. What I really like about the egg myth is that the exact opposite is true: it’s perfectly possible to balance an egg on its end on any given day of the year (particularly if the egg is first vigorously shaken). The myth is in the restriction to a specific date, not the action itself.

It’s this aspect of the legend that makes me want to revisit it regularly. In life, I think that myths more frequently work this way round. I find that people far more often build up a sense of challenge and foreboding around straightforward tasks than insist that the impossible can be done if only specific circumstances applied—and certainly, I think it’s human nature to think this way when looking ahead to events in our own lives.

The legend is a good reminder that we shouldn’t get distracted by the social mythology that gets built up around stuff, and we shouldn’t give into our own fears about future events. There are enough barriers and hurdles in the world without imagining ones that don’t really exist.


The photo at the top is my own, originally published on 20 March 2012. In retrospect, I should probably have tidied the kitchen table a bit before taking the photo.

This 2,414th post was filed under: Posts delayed by 12 months.

Vernal equinox

This 2,413th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2019.

Brandling Park Bowling Club

This 2,412th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2019.

Political polls are getting more accurate

An interesting article by Will Jennings and Christopher Wlezien in today’s Times Red Box pointed me in the direction of their recently published paper in Nature Human Behaviour on the accuracy of pre-election polling. Their conclusion, in a nutshell, is that polls are becoming better at accurately predicting the outcome of elections.

This gave me pause for thought: are polls designed and intended to reflect the outcome of an election? Or are polls about reflecting the views of the population at a point in time?

My hunch is that they are more often designed for the latter purpose. Most polls ask how people would vote if there were an election today. I’m not aware of any polls that attempt to correct for the typical post-election “honeymoon” nor the typical midterm “slump” in their efforts to better predict the next election result.

If my hunch is right, then it’s probably unfair to talk about poll “error” when the results of polls conducted well before elections do not match the election results. More importantly, it puts a different spin on their findings.

Assuming all other things are equal (which they are most emphatically not), then late polls better reflecting the outcome of an election suggests that they are better reflecting the views of voters. Assuming that this increased “representativeness” carries across the election cycle and that polls are measurements rather than predictions, then mid-cycle polls more accurately reflecting the final outcome suggests that the population’s views are becoming more intransigent. (In truth, I’ve no idea whether or not this fits their data, it just seems like it might.)

I don’t know whether that is true or not, but it certainly feels like it might be. I feel like things are reaching a point where people are no longer willing to engage with alternative political views, let alone change their own view. On social media, in particular, I see people who didn’t have had a clearly defined political view five years ago now suggesting that those with differing political views necessarily have malintent. This goes for both sides of the political debate. This never seems a particularly good strategy to me – I don’t think many people have their views changed through the hurling of insults!


The picture at the top is by RachelH_ on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence.

This 2,411th post was filed under: Politics, Posts delayed by 12 months.

Happy Birthday John Snow!

Alongside my main job, for a few hours a year I’m an Associate Lecturer in Public Health at Northumbria University. My biggest single contribution in this role is a full day seminar on health protection, which forms part of the Master of Public Health course. By sheer coincidence, this year’s seminar fell on 15 March—today—and so I “treated” the students to a brief lecture version of this blog post from a couple of years ago. They seemed to like it!

This 2,410th post was filed under: Posts delayed by 12 months.

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