Thursday, 24 May, 2007

Commonsense comeback?

I was reading an article (Wrong Again, Vidya Subrahmaniam, Frontline, June 1, 2007) on the failure of pollsters in predicting the results of the recent elections in UP, the one Mayawati won. “Why did the opinion and exit polls go wrong and why did the ordinary journalist get closer to the actual result?” the article asked.

As an answer, it quoted political scientist Yogendra Yadav writing, “This was a clear instance of the triumph of old-style political journalism over the new-fangled number crunching. Political reporters may not have talked about a clear majority for the BSP, but they did capture the hawa in a way that the opinion and exit polls did not.”

The article goes on to conclude that ‘election forecasting is different from market surveys. A journalist with her ear to the ground can perhaps detect sounds not heard by the savvy surveyor who, though equipped with sophisticated tools, may not have the instincts to interpret political signals (italics mine).”

Perhaps, perhaps not. Didn't David Ogilvy write something to the effect that a good ad man can get more out of chatting to a dozen prospects than from pages of research?

Maybe it won’t do us too much harm to get our noses out of those CRM books and read Bird’s Commonsense Direct Marketing again. Maybe the captains and lieutenants of industry are better off with simple observation, more so because they refuse to pick up even the rudiments of statistics.

(Actually, those who talk about the wonders of data mining and modelling and so on are, more often than not, incredibly ignorant of what these things mean. I have found the writers of books on these subjects unfailingly humble, and sometimes overeager to explain the limitations of their art.)


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