Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Controversy? What Controversy? (Pt. 2)

I thought I might take an opportunity to spend a little more time talking about the Daily Athenaeum, namely the aftermath of the pro-pot editorial page from Friday's issue. Although I liberally spread the Opinion section's e-mail address around (namely on Free Republic and my own site), a total of five e-mails saw print in the Monday and Tuesday editions. The four printed Monday were all "parrot" e-mails that echoed the sentiments of the columnists and expounded on them to a limited degree, whereas the letter printed Tuesday was from a graduate student and advocated hemp legalization. No negative feedback was printed. I found this to be a little odd, so I decided to apply some (vaguely) scientific reasoning as to why no counterpoint mail was published. Bear with me on this one, because it gets pretty interesting.

First, like any good scientist, I came up with some hypotheses as to why no negative e-mail was put to ink. Keep in mind that most of the numbers are hypothetical. Here are the possibilities that I came up with, followed by some reasoning as to how they could be valid:

1.) There was no bad mail to print.

Occam's Razor says yes to this theory. (For the unitiated, the Razor is a scientific principle stating that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.) Nevertheless, while entirely possible, the raw statistics make this unlikely. Over 25,000 students attend WVU. Not all of these students read the DA; if I were to guess, I'd say about a quarter of them (6,250) do so. Of those who read it, let's say that half (3,125) read the paper cover-to-cover. The chances of 3,125 readers not sending at least one negative e-mail are fairly slim.

Don't forget about Free Republic. My post about the controversy on FR was viewed roughly 1,000 times. Most FReepers are more active when it comes to the big issues and would be more likely to provide feedback. Surprisingly, there were more closet libertarians and pro-legalization Republicans than I expected on Free Republic, so we'll cut the number of potential bad feedbacks in half (500). (A side note: I thought about going to Democratic Underground for a moment when I noticed the trend...and then I laughed.) Two things work in our favor here: some WVU alumni read the post and made comments on it, and there were some people posting who were against legalization. We'll subtract about 200 for repeat views, which puts the potential FReepermail count at 300.

And of course, we can't leave out my own visitors. When I posted "What Is the DA Smoking?", my StatCounter (the green one that I programmed to ignore my IP address) showed about 800 hits. Currently, it shows 1186. That's a gain of over 300 visitors who probably would have seen the e-mail address. Visitors from other countries might not care as much about the issue at hand, so let's round the tally of potential e-mails from my site to 225.

If you're keeping score at home, these numbers add up to a total of 3,500 people who could have sent the Daily Athenaeum negative feedback. I tried to make conservative estimates, but the number could be much higher than that. The chance of these people not sending a single rebuttal is not impossible, but extremely improbable.

Oh, and you may be wondering: Why didn't I send them feedback? Well, that would have been too obvious!

2.) Any negative feedback was too extreme.

This is somewhat possible, but doubtful. The majority of people that would have sent mail would have made sure it was intelligent and printable (hopefully). Besides, the DA is a college paper; unless they received flame e-mail or mail containing slanderous/libelous statements, they would have done minor editing and printed the e-mail. Next...

3.) The negative feedback was uninteresting.

Very unlikely. If someone had bothered to write out an e-mail and send it to the Opinion section, chances are it would have made some kind of point. Even if the letter was short, it shouldn't have mattered; a decidedly original letter which argued that the Bible approves of weed only contained five short sentences and was printed in the Monday edition. I don't buy this hypothesis at all.

4.) The negative feedback was left out intentionally.

If the staff wants to push the issue, then this is possible. At the same time, it would take some serious nerve to be the student who publishes a well thought-out con editorial to balance the pros; therefore, the paper might not be pushing an agenda at all. The paper has shown strong evidence of bias in the past, however, so this theory would not defy precedent. We're playing scientist, so although we can't prove this false unlike 2 and 3, we can't prove it true. After all, science is only good for proving a hypothesis false, and even if science COULD prove this true, there isn't enough evidence. The paper's staff probably knows the answer to this question, but I don't, and if this is the answer, I'd rather not.

Conclusion:

Theories 2 and 3 aren't nearly as valid as 1 and 4. The question becomes this: How will we ever know which one is true? That's simple: If the feedback was purposefully omitted (4), then this pattern will repeat over the course of future "topical days" at the Daily Athenaeum. Hopefully, that won't happen, and Occam's Razor (1) will hold true. Here's hoping, anyway.

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