Friday, November 21, 2008

Missouri loses bellwether status

As was widely predicted, Missouri has lost its bellwether status [BBC News, 21 November 2008]. For only the second time since 1904, Missouri voted for the losing candidate in the presidential election. Aw, shucks!

Immediately after the election, David McCoy pointed out that the concept of bellwetherhood was Bad Statistics. It is also bad inductive reasoning to suggest that something is unlikely because it hasn't happened before, or that something is remarkable because it is unlikely. J.R. Lucas (author of several books of philosophy including The Concept of Probability) used to call this the Dover Fallacy.
There was a young curate of Dover
Who bowled twenty-five wides in an over,
Which had never been done
By a clergyman’s son
On a Tuesday in August in Dover.
The BBC reports Larry Sabato, Professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia, as saying that trying to identify bellwethers may not be a worthwhile enterprise. But if you search for "Larry Sabato bellwether" you can find what appear to be many attempts by Professor Sabato to do just that for various state and national elections including the most recent.
Glad to see a professor willing to change his mind about something.

Meanwhile, there is apparently some status involved in being a bellwether state. Now I don't know a lot about herding sheep, but I think the way it works is that if you are herding sheep you only need one bell, but if you are herding goats you need one bell for each goat.

Perhaps having a bell around its neck made Missouri feel more important than the other sheep. Now people are already discussing how to get Missouri its bell back.
Listen Missouri, you don't need this. Did you know that the bellwether was originally a castrated ram? Or you could always try astrology instead: Reclaiming our Revolutionary Roots.

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