Saturday, August 20, 2005

1's or 0's?

Binary, that is. On or off. up or down. yes or no. Binary is certainly a useful tool. However, when it comes to surveys, it is a most wretched and deceitful approach.

Granted, some survey questions can fit into two neat bins; yet, the typical questions—“Is the president doing a great job?” “Do you like Walmart”—do not fit nicely. Especially more complex and interesting questions such as: “Do you think the Congress is working hard enough on the economy?” (which is called a ‘loaded’ or ‘complex’ question—a logical fallacy, but that’s another blog…)

For example, I recently received an evening phone call.
The first question was, “How would you rate the president’s performance?—Good or bad?”
“Oh, no,” I thought.
“Mixed,” I replied.
“Ok, I’ll put you down as undecided,” she cheerfully answered.
“No, I am sorry; I said, ‘mixed’—that does not mean undecided,” I calmly replied.
“Well, we have ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘undecided,’” she gleefully replied.
“I am sorry—if this is how the questions will be pigeon-holed, then I will not answer anymore. Good night,” I calmly replied while reining my tongue in.

See? That is what I mean by deceitful. Just take those answers that are either yes or no and throw them into the ‘neutral’ bin and they fall off the radar screen.

As you can observe, I do not like binary questionnaires.

But as an engineer I like 1s and 0s. And you should too—that’s what makes your computer function. And it helps telephones as well; you know, so that they can call you with those binary questionnaires.

Enjoy your binary life.


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