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Embarrassment of Riches

Random as doublespeak

I'll write a proper post on graphics later but for now, a short gripe on the mis-use of the concept of randomness.

What prompted me was a gabble of recent headlines such as:

  • New York subway riders face random searches
  • Police start random bag searches on NY subways
  • Random checks underway on some subways and commuter trains

Random implies everyone has equal chance of getting searched.  Putting myself in the shoes of a subway policeman, I wonder how I can enforce random.  Flipping a fair coin would do it but it's not practical.

More likely,
random is doublespeak.  It means exactly its opposite.

Sometimes,
random is an excuse for not thinking.  In market research, we often hear results are unbiased because of random sampling.  One pauses and asks: would the results have been more meaningful were the sample to be biased towards the specific segments of people of greatest interest?

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