The other day while eating lunch in my employer’s cafeteria I picked up the fish wrap version of the Idaho Statesman. My employer kindly subscribes to the Statesman and scatters copies around the office so I don’t have to spend my money on what is usually a slightly left of center, sane, and boring publication. The Statesman is constrained by the decidedly right of center leanings of Idaho but on some days they let their inner left-wing freak fly and boy did it fly when they boldly reported: Idaho named the second-most hateful state in the U.S.
I always thought we were number one!
I read the article to see who beat us in the prestigious hate rankings and would you believe Montana.
My Spidey statistics sense started tingling. Was it my fault? In the last year I have lived in both Idaho and Montana, and being a hate group of one, I hate the sloppy use of misleading statistics, I may have skewed the rankings. Some co-workers remarked that if I only I had moved from Montana earlier Idaho would be number one.
Whenever I see overtly political opinions expressed with decimals I set my bullshit detectors on eleven and start analyzing the data, not the drivel.
Exactly how were these state hate rankings calculated? Here is how it’s done.
- The South Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has developed a precise scientific instrument that determines if arbitrary groups of people are a hate group. Compared to the SPLC hate group meter LIGO’s detection of gravity waves is just trivial physics. In case you are wondering I am being sarcastic. There are no hate group meters! SPLC designations cannot be checked like the mass of the electron can be checked. They are merely expressing opinions about groups they don’t like. However, for the sake of calculation, let’s assume SPLC hate group counts reflect some fundamental reality.
- State hate rankings are expressed as hate groups per million. For example, Idaho’s ranking is 7.1/million. This value is computed by the simple formula.
(one million/state population) * (SPLC hate group count)
Plugging in the SPLC values for Idaho we get:
(1000000/1695178) * 12 = 7.078902629
Which, when rounded up1 to one decimal, equals 7.1; this matches the value reported by 24/7 Wall Street: the primary source cited by the Statesman.
I put together a little spreadsheet that applies this naive calculation to the ten most hateful states and it completely replicates the 24/7 hate ranking. The recalculated values are shown below and if you really must check my calculations you can download my spreadsheet from here.
Now, for extra credit, what is wrong with this calculation? Remember, I am assuming SPLC’s dubious and entirely subjective hate group counts are correct and I am using current state populations. So what is wrong? What renders this apparently precise analysis utterly meaningless, deceptive, and frankly so stupid that numerate adults should be embarrassed to parrot such nonsense in public.
If you haven’t spotted the problem yet ask yourself. “How big are these hate groups?”
I come from Montana. It doesn’t surprise me that Montana harbors ten “hate groups”, but what does that mean? It probably means there are a few dozen nuts running around in fatigues kicking dogs and yelling at people to keep off their property. You need to know how many people are in the “hate groups” to calculate a meaningful per capita statistic. Group hate is not a thing but individual hate is!
I suspect the 24/7 authors and the Statesman know that ratio ranking is, to use a millennial word, “problematic”, but we all know the primary purpose of such facile reports (fake news) is to provide a seemingly credible reference that can be re-tweeted, and linked, ad infinitum by innumerate partisan dolts when they’re enjoying their five-minute social media hates.
- The SPLC is a left-wing organization so they will round-up. White supremacists and other wrong-thinkers will round down.↩︎