Numbers that aren't what they seem: This evening, we're celebrating one of our dumbest national rituals—the quadrennial Iowa caucuses.
No one can explain how they actually work. No one even attempts to explains why they work that way. To maintain belief in the reasonableness of the system, journalists avoid taking note of the very small number of Iowa voters who actually take part.
As with so many of our failing systems, the whole thing is a gong show, a rather embarrassing mess.
We decided to skip this topic today since all such discussion is pointless. That said, the general topic was called to mind by this irrelevant and/or misleading post at New York magazine:
2:44 P.M.The post provides this link.
That’s a lot of people
According to FOX Sports, across all platforms, 102 million viewers tuned in to Super Bowl LIV.
That number makes it the 10th most-watched Super Bowl in history.
As presented, that post doesn't quite say what it seems to say. Here's why we say that:
The post seems to suggest that this was a highly-watched Super Bowl—the 10th most-watched out of LIV (54)! But are we basing that statement on total viewers? If so, that "10th most-watched" designation doesn't seem to be super-impressive.
The first Super Bowl was held in 1967. The nation's population was a smidge under 200 million.
Today, it's roughly 330 million. Our total population is much bigger today!
For most purposes, it doesn't make sense to compare total viewers over time without accounting for the large gain in total population. Are we supposed to be surprised to learn that this year's viewership exceeded that of the early years, when the total available viewership was so much smaller?
There are a million ways to mishandle data in the naked city. Even among our "educated" elites, we rational animals have a very strong tendency to get around to them all.
That said, tonight is one of the dumbest nights of the year. Just imagine! Our presidents are selected by the people who don't value their time enough to avoid the unexplained drudgery of attendance at the Iowa caucuses!
(Hat tip: Bill Maher, for a vaguely related ad lib from several decades ago.)
Plus, no secret ballot! Unlike in modern comment threads, everyone gets to know!
Our systems are creaking and breaking down. On cable, you're rarely told.