Saturday, October 4, 2008

Palin-Biden debate, more than words

Well, here we go.

According to CNN, Sarah Palin spoke at a higher grade level than Joe Biden.

(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. ...

Grade level: Biden, 7.8; Palin, 9.5 (Newspapers are typically written to a sixth-grade reading level.)

Sentences per paragraph: statistically tied at 2.7 for Biden and 2.6 for Palin.

Letters per word: tied at 4.4.

Ease of reading: Biden, 66.7 (with 100 being the easiest to read or hear), versus 62.4 for Palin.

Perhaps most intriguing, our word count differs markedly from that in the article -- and contra our count has Biden out-wording Palin.


And while we are most certainly not a global language monitoring service expert, Google Docs does provide some Grammar Tools. Based upon the transcript we have used, here's what it has to say:

Flesch Reading Ease: 74.43
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 6.00

Flesch Reading Ease: 69.65
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.00

Matches up at least fairly well with the global language monitoring service expert.

And from wikipedia, a little background on the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Flesch-Kincaid Gradel Level score:

The Flesch/Flesch–Kincaid Readability Tests are readability tests designed to indicate comprehension difficulty when reading a passage of contemporary academic English. There are two tests, the Flesch Reading Ease, and the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level. Although they use the same core measures (word length and sentence length), they have different weighting factors, so the results of the two tests correlate imperfectly: a text with a higher score on the Reading Ease test over another text may have a lower score on the Grade Level test. Both systems were devised by Rudolf Flesch.

In the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read; lower numbers mark more-difficult-to-read passages.

The "Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula" translates the 0–100 score to a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts.

We have no idea how much a global language monitoring service charges someone like CNN to perform their service -- but we would have done it for much cheaper.

But then again, if we got the word count wrong (and we have no reason to think the global language monitoring service expert is wrong, and the error could have been ours or the transcript from which we were working), then perhaps CNN spent the money wisely.

[VIMH: Are you going to go back and check your word count?]
It is under consideration.

UPDATE: We went back and did a recount. There were some dimpled chads, including one section that was clearly Biden speaking, though labeled as Palin. New totals...

Palin: 7520 (vs 7734 in first count)
Biden: 7183 (vs 7419 in the first count)

What accounts for the difference other than the misattribution? Well, the transcript has been updated, with a few notes in the current version. We have no idea what changed and how that may or may not have affected the counts.

As to the word counts in the CNN article, which not only indicate that Biden spoke more words than Palin, but also indicates a couple thousand fewer words by each candidate, we have no idea what the difference is. Perhaps they didn't count opening and closing statements?

It will continue as a mystery...

Your best bet, though, will probably be to trust the global language monitoring expert. He doesn't get paid the big bucks for nothing.

1 comment:

  1. Governor Palin did very well for herself.

    Joe Biden merely did well for Obama.

    But I have not yet heard anyone from any side express any concern about the most dangerous possibility if Governor Palin is elected to national office.