It pays to be ignorant

Does CNN have even the slightest idea what it’s reporting here? For that matter do the people running Global Language Monitor, whom CNN relies upon, understand the ‘research’ they’re doing? It’s hard to shake the feeling that ignoramuses are getting paid good money to churn out this kind of junk.

Doubly ironic then that both of the reports linked to above seem to imply that Sarah Palin showed more intelligence in her speech patterns during the vice presidential debate than Joe Biden did. And here you thought her gibberish and cutesy patter marked Palin pretty definitely as a dope. You betcha.

Here’s CNN:

An analysis carried out by a language monitoring service said Friday that Gov. Sarah Palin spoke at a more than ninth-grade level and Sen. Joseph Biden spoke at a nearly eighth-grade level in Thursday night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates.

Much of the rest of the CNN report is a nearly incomprehensible stew of factoids whose significance (if any) the author doesn’t seem to know. But the theme of the piece (if any) is that Palin’s comments were pitched for people with a higher level of education than Biden’s. The GLM report leads with the same notion.

But what the ‘research’ actually measures is, if anything, the opposite of what CNN and GLM imply. It’s using a few simple statistics to quantify the ‘readability’ of prose/speech, using modified Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests.

One of these tests assigns a score between 1 and 100 for how easy the language is to comprehend. The two factors used are simplistic in the extreme: the ratio of words per sentence, and the ratio of syllables per word. On this scale, however, short sentences rate highly even if they’re grammatically incomprehensible.

The other test assigns a grade level at which the average student can understand the language. The same simplistic factors are used in this test. A long statement rates a higher grade level, whether it is perfectly lucid or mere gibberish.

So what GLM really is measuring with these tests is not the sophistication of Palin’s speech. Instead, it has discovered that she rambles a lot.

A clueless CNN thought you needed to know that.

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