Monday, August 3, 2015

Some People Say... (Part One)

I was listening on the radio to a story about the woman who has now joined the coaching staff of the Arizona Cardinals. It is a barrier breaking accomplishment, having a woman coach on a National Football League team. No, she's not a head coach but hey, all head coaches have to start somewhere. Yes, this is a real break through for women in professional sports. 

During the course of the interview, the anchor woman addressed the concern that "some people say that a woman coach in the NFL would be a distraction". The guy she was interviewing on this subject said that on the internet, there are always "some people" who will say anything.  

And kudos to that guy for saying that. Because in this age of social media and 24 hour news cycles, there are few three word combos that have taken a beating more than "some people say".  

"Some people say" is a turn of phrase that does have some value. Technically speaking there will always be a small group of people who will have a point of view that is either a minority perspective from a larger group or a small number of individuals who are just now bringing a matter to a broader level of attention. "Some people say" can be a very valid and appropriate expression. 

But "some people say" has been overused and abused to the point that it carries almost no meaning, no weight, no value. It's become a tool to provoke a sense of false controversy and exaggerated outrage.  

To start with, what do we mean by "some"? The some is "not all", inherently "not many", "not the most" or "a few". The word "some" is frequently left frustratingly ill defined. When some talking head on TV says "some people say" this or that, what percentage of the larger group does "some" represent? What size is the larger group? 

20% of a larger group can be referred to as "some" of that group.  20% of 50 people is 10. 20% of 5 million people comes to 1 million. The numbers grow larger but the proportions remain the same: 1 out of 5 people are part of the "some".  

But what if the "some" is not a percentage but a certain number. Let's go back to 50 people with 10 people not agreeing with the group. But what happens if the larger group grows but those in opposition within that group remains steady? If the overall group increases to 500, the 10 now becomes 2% of the group.  If the over group increases to 5 million and even if the group in opposition grows to 100, the percentage portion of the group, the "some", is .002%. A definite decrease in significant impact on the larger group but technically speaking, this .002% still represents "some". 

So I imagine a population of 5 million people have to vote on whether or not puppies are cute. 

  • 20% of the population are cat people have come out against this being on the ballot. That's 1 million people. They are "some" of the people". 
  • Meanwhile, a group of 100 people who think baby ducklings are being discriminated against have also spoken out. These duck lovers represent only .002% of the population.  They too are "some" of the people.  

Now this 5 million person population has a news channel that we will refer to as Pox Gnus. The chairman of Pox Gnus doesn't like puppies. Anyway, a show on Pox Gnus has three guests to discuss this contentious issue. Well, it's not really "contentious". Of the total population, a considerable majority of 3,999,900 people think puppies are cute. But on the show in question, the three guests include a person from the pro-puppy lobby, a person for the pro-cat people and a person from the pro-duck group. Both the cat and the duck reps get to be there because they represent "some" people even though the "some people" the duck person is speaking for is virtually a statistical anomaly. 

Throw into the mix that the host of the program has an anti-puppy boss who signs his pay check and you have a match up of 3 against 1. All of a sudden, 75% of the people on screen are against the puppies are cute initiative.  From the perspective of this show, "some people" want us to be pro-puppy. So the smaller number of "some people" from the total population gains disproportional power in the overall discussion and turns the larger number into "some people". 

So the water's pretty muddy when we try to figure out what "some" means. But what about the "people" part of this equation. I'll cover that ground tomorrow.

Until then, be good to one another.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You


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