01.04.2011 11:03 AM

Beware the Word Clouds

The Globe has given over an entire page, today, to that Abacus “survey” about the federal parties and leaders (and which I take on in the Sun, here).

What the Globe doesn’t advise its readers about, to my surprise, is either (a) how the methodology in that poll is suspect and (b) that “Word Clouds” can be manipulated any which way you like.  They do not represent a benign or random sampling of words in a given piece of text – but a lot of people seem to have been fooled into thinking they do.

Up above is one I just did, using my bio page.  It took me five seconds to mess around with it, and change what had been automatically generated.  You can do it, too, here.

Bottom line: beware the Word Cloud.  They’re fun, but they’re not science.


  1. Cath says:

    You’re welcome:-) The media was clearly suckered in BIG TIME……again.

  2. bugzy says:

    The media are the ones suckering big time the people of
    Canada. Harper loves them. They give them prime time attention and
    free campaign advertising. The great leaders can duck behind the
    porta pottie and they would be there with a microphone asking him
    questions. That’s about the whole story on the Media. A bunch of
    lap dogs and supporters of a Dictatorial leader and his inadequate
    Mps. and party. I am quite sure there are perks for them or why
    else would they be trailing his every move and stirring the pot..
    Nothing else make any sense.

    • The Doctor says:

      “That’s about the whole story on the Media. A bunch of lap
      dogs and supporters of a Dictatorial leader and his inadequate Mps.
      and party.” Apparently you’ve never heard of the Canadian
      Broadcasting Corporation.

  3. Springer says:

    Branding is about perception, and, as all educated
    political junkies (should) know, in politics perception is
    everything. Leadership is, as much as anything, a matter of
    perception. People innately look for, and respect, leadership,
    particularly when it comes to governing a nation. Love him or hate
    him, few question PM Harper’s ability to lead. Conversely, a
    perception of being incapable of even leading the proverbial duck
    to water is a political trainwreck looking for a place to happen.
    Notable casualties of such perception would include Robert
    Stanfield, Joe Clark, Kim Campbell, John Turner, Stockwell Day, and
    most recently…and shockingly for many Liberals…Paul Martin.
    Thus, what this poll reveals, no real surprise, is that the
    Conservative brand is synonymous to a considerable extent with
    Harper’s leadership qualities…just as was the Liberal’s with
    Chretien’s. It also reveals that the opposite is true for Ignatief.
    And while Layton might be seen as a nice guy with whom to engage
    over a couple pints of beer, God forbid he, given his unrepentant
    socialism, would ever become PM! That aside, I’m going to throw
    this out there for consideration… What more and more people are
    fed up with having crammed down their throats is this: Experts, and
    their opinions about everything from foreign affairs right down to
    how to raise our own children…but more specifically, the ever
    increasing weight, if not (blind) submissiveness, that is given to
    them. Why? Simple! Because, if the “experts” who have been running
    this world for so damn long now are so GD smart, then why has the
    world become such an unholy disaster? And apparently getting worse
    just about each and every day??? Let’s be honest here. Just about
    every time someone from the Liberal Left gives their opinion or
    enters into a debate about anything even remotely conceivable, they
    start off with, implied or otherwise, “The experts say…” Is it
    possibly any more classic than that surrounding all this nonsense
    regarding “Anthropological Global Warming”? Good God, but what
    unmitigated hell on earth have the “experts” hammered us with, from
    sea levels rising twenty feet to the demise of cute little polar
    bears cubs to if you can imagine it, they’ve invoked it! Even when
    successive winters outside our doors continue to pound the
    everlovin’ bejeezus out of pretty much anything that depends on
    oxygen for a living! But more to the point, what people are
    seriously getting fed up with is being told that their own God
    given good common sense isn’t worth diddly! Don’t listen to or give
    credence to what your own five senses are telling you! Listen to
    us, for we know everything! And if you don’t think so, we can prove
    you’re wrong about that, too! It’s precisely this that is spawning
    the likes of the Tea Party movements across the western world. It’s
    about people being sick and tired of being told to shut the hell
    up; if we have any need of opinions about anything at all, we’ll
    defer to the “experts”, thank you very much! Now go back to your
    Reality Show du Jour and leave running the world to us, silly
    person. Here’s another f’rinstance: Travers still just cannot get over the long form census
    . Why? Clearly because the “experts” are upset!
    Forget altogether that there is just something fundamentally and
    intrinsically wrong about threatening citizens of a free society
    with fines and/or imprisonment for not supplying personal
    information to Big Brother…which is exceedingly obvious to most
    Canadians. Nevertheless, the usual suspects of Liberal Left
    persuasion rant endlessly to anyone who will listen, completely
    incognisant of the reality that Larry Lunchbucket and Joe Average
    Canadian are yet again rolling their collective eyes over such
    inanely self righteous indignation. We’re told by experts that
    crime rates are decreasing. Well, yes, marginally so…if you
    consider merely the last decade or so. But poking around a tad, we
    find that since the early ’60s crime is up astronomically, measured
    in terms of multiple factors. Meanwhile reporting of crimes
    continue to plummet annually. Why? Because why bother, is why!
    Nothing happens anyway! Why does nothing happen? Because the
    “experts” have had their way for decades is the perception of
    people who increasing find themselves scared to walk their own
    streets, having been fed an almost daily diet of news of armed
    thugs engaged in open warfare over drug turf. And they, or their
    neighbors, have had the homes/vehicles vandalized for the umpteenth
    time, and half the time the cops don’t even bother to show up to
    have a look for themselves. Here’s a file number for insurance
    purposes, call us if back if you really must. Who reliably runs to
    the defense…every single bloody time…of the “experts” at even
    the slightest indication of impatience with their assurances that
    they’ve got everything under control? Despite the growing chaos
    that has increasingly become all too commonly the norm? Yep, you
    got it. In a democratic and free society, people expect and/or
    demand to be heard…and rightfully so. Just as crucially, they
    want respect for their opinions. The Democrats just got handed
    their collective butts for ignoring precisely this. And if the LPC
    doesn’t figure it out pretty soon, things are only going to get
    even bleaker for them. This isn’t rocket science, eh? Just

    • Namesake says:

      Feel better?

      How comforting for you it must be that the Conservative government is similarly devoid of all expertise, then.

    • Cath says:

      We’re not talking about “branding” here at all. We’re talking a very unscientific, artsy, manipulation of lists via the word cloud to somehow help market a marketing tool.
      It’s got little to do with effective branding.
      How do we know that the creators of the “clouds” included their own words or excluded others?
      We don’t.

      It’s kind of like branding the leaders using their astrological signs and making it believable.

  4. Rome says:

    Anyone else notice that words most people would consider as one are separated? For the Cons, “arrogant” “Arrogant” and “Arrogance” are three different words. Shouldn’t they be represented as one? “Taxes” get the same treatment.

    For the Libs there is only one “Arrogant” and “Taxes”. Although, there are multiples of “corrupt” and “weak”.

    Layton gets multiples of “socialist” and “leader”.

    These word clouds are weird. Using them for political marketing is a great idea. But, for polling it’s pathetic. It’s good to see that many of the Globe commenters are calling out the methodology. Also, Abacus and it’s founder are taking a beating, too.

  5. Sean says:

    flakey hokum worthy of a 4th year poly sci class…

    • Cath says:

      I agree totally….actually if a 4th year poly sci-class was paying for this they should ask for their money back.

  6. Mr. Chamberlain says:

    If I was a Poli Sci prof and that was submitted to me, I would return it without a grade with a note to never submit a paper like that again. Then again, it might get an 90 in a Marketing class.

    Warren, I appreciated your message in today’s Sun, but I would challenge you on it as well. Isn’t a Liberal-NDP merger akin to cooking up New Coke, sold in a can with shiny new colours? Unless the New Coke includes some words about nationalization, a merger is no more than New Coke, i.e. New Liberal Party of Canada. What the Liberal leadership has to understand is there is plenty of depth to the party if you consider its history and search the rank and file. Call it Old Coke. The real stuff. Not that sugar water New Coke that was sweetened to the point that no one would touch it. If anything is to be added to Old Coke it should be capable of growing hair on your chest, i.e. choosing a pit bull of a Liberal to lead the party. Liberals are not Socialists.

    And it is a positive thing that there is enough depth to the party that it isn’t simply associated with the current leader. Which means the brand has something more essential or authentic about it.

    • Warren says:

      It’s eliminating an opponent. Harper did it and won. We can too.

      But that’s all moot, now. MAD continues apace.

      • Mr. Chamberlain says:

        Eliminating one opponent, or two, for Mr. Harper? I hate to say it but I would rather see a Proportional Rep system that included unaccountable MPs from a list over a Liberal-NDP merger. Or, the NDP needs to very publicly walk away from nationalism well in advance of merger talks.

        Anyways, again, I appreciated your message today.

      • Springer says:

        Keep in mind that when Harper did it, a number of “progressives” bolted…albeit nowhere near as many as predicted (mostly by Liberals).

        The core support of the NDP, at least federally, and whom arguably still represent the majority of votes collected, are not all that likely to feel sated by a more moderate left of center Liberal party.

        On the other hand, how many largely centrist Liberals going to feel at ease about dragging the party even further left in order to make Dippers feel comfy enough to hang around? It’s not a stretch at all…certainly not now after 5 years of Conservative government that doesn’t even remotely resemble all the dire (generally meaning shrill beyond belief) warnings and charges leveled against them at the outset…to suggest that a significant share of this core vote could quite easily find a lot more in common with Harper’s CPC than a clearly leftist Liberal party with considerable socialist influences.

        Conservatives, while of varying political DNA, more or less returned home to their somewhat traditional concept of a “Conservative” party.

        I don’t see a political equivalent here between the Liberals and NDP. Hell, even the very idea of Bob Rae leading the LPC is enough to give many core supporters a bad case of the shakes, ya think?

        • Sean says:

          “On the other hand, how many largely centrist Liberals
          going to feel at ease about dragging the party even further left in
          order to make Dippers feel comfy enough to hang around” Uh huh… how
          many grass roots Libs feel comfortable about losing in about 250
          ridings before the election even starts? We’ll find out at the June
          Convention I suspect…

          • The Doctor says:

            I guess the million dollar question here really is: would a “big tent” centre-left party be viable and stable in Canada these days? I’m not sure. Some would argue that Trudeau’s Liberal Party was just that, a big tent that was centre-left, but a LOT has changed since Trudeu’s day — in particular, the LPC can no longer count on getting in the neighbourhood of 60-75 seats from Quebec. And, of course, Quebec voters have generally been left-leaning, by Canadian standards.

            Then there’s the fact — which I haven’t seen WK squarely address — that the PC-Reform merger was really a reunification (akin to West and East Germany getting back together), whereas the LPC and NDP never have been united, and come from completely different roots. And I would be fascinated to hear a few Dippers and Liberals get together and discuss what is to be done with some of those positions in the NDP charter (e.g., quitting NATO and NORAD, membership in Socialist International).

            I find that the Liberal-NDP merger idea is a classic example of something that has great surface attractiveness, but becomes less attractive and less viable the more you examine it.

      • I think Warren’s point about eliminating an opponent is very poignant. However, there may be problems from the view of current NDP members (which I am not one, nor have I ever been): The problem is that if you merge a centrist Liberal Party with a left-wing NDP, you will not get a new left-of-centre Progressive Liberal party. You will get a new right of centre party–a new Progressive Conservative party.

    • Sean says:

      “Liberals are not Socialists” OK, lets consider that… healthcare, Kyoto, CPP, student loans, national daycare, NEP, no bank mergers, the Green Shift, bilingualism, funding of rights groups, national day care, CBC, gun control, long form census.. sigh… thank goodness Canadians can depend on the LPOC to hold back the socialist menace.

      Saying “no” to a merger is like Pepsi refusing to buy out Coca Cola because the executives honestly believe that Coca Cola does not make Cola.

  7. Mr. Chamberlain says:

    No, the Liberals saying no to a merger with the NDP is like
    Coca Cola refusing to cook up New Coke by adding Orange Crush to
    Old Coke. Who wants to drink that?! Thanks for clarifying all that
    you would consider Socialist. I guess that makes a lot of us
    Socialists! Which is exactly your strategy. Good to have your help
    in defining what Socialism is! I imagine Mr. Harper would be more
    than happy to tell us how Socialist we are, especially after a
    merger. I get it. Really. You want to move the centre to the right
    by calling us Socialist, then getting us to trip over ourselves in
    proving we aren’t. I guess that is what the Conservatives mean by
    transparency. Over and out.

    • Sean says:

      Mr. Chamberlain, my point is very simple. When Liberals say they can’t merge with the NDP b/c the NDP is “socialist”, I call bullshit. Since the 50s, the Liberal Party has frequently and forcefully advocated many socialist policies. Some have stood the test of time and are now key aspects of Canadian life. Healthcare and the CPP are good examples. The fact is the Liberal Party has been a socialist party for quite some time now. Pretending that we can’t cooperate with socialists is completely dishonest and results in only one thing. Losing by default. In that sense we are becoming more and more like the NDP. Like the NDP, the Liberal Party isn’t in it to win or make a difference anymore. Like the NDP, it only exists to make interesting points at meaningless conferences that Joe and Jane Frontporch couldn’t care less about.

      • Mr. Chamberlain says:

        Very respectfully, that does not reflect rank and file
        Liberals, who are not Socialists (nor are they classical liberals
        for that matter). Canadian liberalism is its own animal and it will
        evolve, yes, but it has something absolutely essential to share
        with Canadians and the world. The Liberal Party of Canada is a big
        tent, which is why it is needed more than ever, during a time when
        the voices from the fringes seem to be the loudest. These are
        immoderate times, unfortunately, which means unless you take an
        immoderate position, such as what we see from the CPC, you will
        have a hard time being heard. Still, the future of the Liberal
        Party of Canada rests it embracing the very best of Canadian
        liberalism, without taking on a merger with a party with which it
        really has little in common. In the case of a merger, the primary
        beneficiary will be the CPC, followed by the Green Party. Such is
        my prediction, Sean. Family matters now beckon.

  8. Most people read English from left to right and top to bottom. This includes graphics. When I looked at the Liberal Wordle graphic, the first thing I noticed was “liars” even though it was not the largest word printed on it. This was because “liars” was at the top-left.

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