A scam, a sham and a shame

A letter to a consulant who presumes to divine the sentiments of the community in two visits from Denver.

Dear Mr. Belin:

When we met at the Brunswick Public Library on Monday before the start of your presentation regarding the “Community Sentiment Survey” you conducted, you told me that you had read my email (see below) to the county and city commissioners about the flaws in your survey and that I knew nothing about statistics. Not true: I took my first course on statistics at Tulane University in 1956 or 1957. The professor began by citing the phrase often quoted by Mark Twain: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

Before we spoke, I had already skimmed through the printout of your presentation and found your claim that this survey was a “Statistically Valid Random Sample of Convenience”. When I read your explanation that “Respondents were reached out to through a coordinated effort on the part of the Golden Isles stakeholders with intent to reach a wide and statistically representative group”, I knew what I had expected all along: that this survey was a scam, a sham, and a shame.

Those “stakeholders” included the Glynn County board of commissioners beholden to the commercial interests who co-sponsored and paid for the survey: the Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, Forward Brunswick, the Golden Isles Development Authority, and the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau. As I am sure you know, that meant those stakeholders had a bias that would prevent them from reaching out to a “statistically representative group” of residents of Glynn County.

So, you were not guilty of lies or damned lies, only of statistics. You told the truth by explaining your methodology involved a “Sample of Convenience”: your convenience and that of your clients, the stakeholders, whose “intent”, you claim, was “to reach a wide and statistically representative group”.

And then you buried your most inconvenient statistics at the very end of your presentation: that 92% of your respondents were white and only five percent were Black or African American, and one percent were Hispanic or Latino. As I am sure you know, those percentages do not represent what was reported in the 2020 census of Glynn County: 62.7% non-Hispanic white, 24.2% Black or African American, and 7.5% Hispanic or Latino.

In other words, the stakeholders’ “intent to reach a wide and statistically representative group” was to find a group representative of themselves and their interests and those of their friends and employers. It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that the “Highest Ranked Community Priority Project” was “Road Paving and Traffic Improvements”. Your survey, conveniently, did not identify any “traffic improvements”, an abstract term that could include anything—and carefully avoided such very expensive and controversial specific projects as roundabouts or traffic circles and widening roads, etc.

I have copied this message to the Glynn County Board of Commissioners because I am on the agenda to speak at the start of their meeting this evening regarding the need for a better and more inclusive survey. If you forward this message to your contacts at the commercial organizations that sponsored your sentimental survey, that might inspire them to attend the meeting to hear what I have to say—or to encourage their friends and supporters on the board to ignore my comments.

Best regards,

Julian Smith