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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published first Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001
Polling season upon us as presidential race kicks off
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The statistical times are at hand, at least as far as Costa Rican politics are concerned. The political season kicked off Monday, and public opinion surveys are the order of the day.

The latest effort is by the newspaper El Día and Demoscopía, S.A. The survey attempts to determine the public mind in advance of the Feb. 3 presidential elections. The results, published Monday, show a dead heat between Abel Pacheco of Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and Rolando Araya of Partido Liberación Nacional.

The data presented by El Día on its front page suggests that Pacheco might be in the lead. So did other surveys taken earlier. The El Día headline said:

     Pacheco  41.8%
     Araya 38.6%

But the Devil is in the details. The researchers are using inferential statistics. By talking to, in this case, 1,225 citizens, they infer the results to all of Costa Rican voters.

The method, as reported by El Día seems to be well conceived. Demoscopía, S.A., randomly took names from the registry of people eligible to vote.  They took a proportional amount of people in various parts of the country, then interviewers actually went to visit each selected person at home.

Each person was given what amounted to a ballot that carried photos of the four leading candidates. The person interviewed actually voted in private for the favorite candidate and placed the market ballot in a box carried by the interviewer. That way survey personnel did not influence the choice.

The survey was about as sophisticated as one can get, and similar to the Gallup surveys in the United States that are highly reliable in predicting election outcomes. However, Gallup usually uses telephone interviews.

Yet the dirty little secret of polling is that the closer the race, the less valuable is inferential statistical techniques in determining the winner.

Take the case presented today. Each inferential statistic carries with it a so-called margin of error. As the statisticians say: the actual value in the general population has a 95 percent chance of being within the margin of error reported by the survey, in this case plus or minus 2.8 percent.

That means there is a 95 percent chance the actual sentiment for Pacheo is between 39 percent and 44.6 percent and the sentiment for Araya is between 35.8 percent and 41.4 percent. 

Because the interval for Pacheco overlaps the interval for Araya, the race is clearly a dead heat. To get a better understanding, surveyors would have to interview many more randomly selected people and the number needed would increase geometrically. The alternative would be to interview everyone in the country, which is another phrase for an election.

Some other complications crop up. Only 65.1 percent of those interviewed said they would vote for sure. The outcome could be very different if more or fewer persons decided to vote. Some 19.2 percent said they were undecided. Some 15.3 said they definitely would not vote.

Then there is the status of minor-party candidates, a situation well-understood by U.S. Democrats who blame Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for skewing the last presidential race to George Bush.

Costa Rica has 16 political parties with presidential candidates. Most minor-party candidates are tiny blips in public opinion polls. But El Día asked about two, Ottón Solís of Partido Acción Ciudadana and Otto Guevera of Movimiento Libertario. Solís got 66 votes (8.3 percent) from those surveyed and Guevara got 87 (10.9 percent).

Survey respondents has the opportunity of writing in the names of other minor-party candidates in the El Día survey. Any outpouring of support for minor-party candidates can distort the vote for major-party candidates.

Randomness is the key

by the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The whole key to a good survey is random selection of the people who respond. El Día and Demoscopía used random techniques. 

But some surveys do not. The biggest offenders are journalists who are likely to do "public opinion" stories after some big news event. 

The reporter goes to some shopping mall and talks to whomever comes along and will talk. Then the reporter typically constructs a story showing that the public opinion is exactly what he or his editor expected it would be before the interviews.

Such surveys make good news copy but poor reflections of the public mood.

In this same league are surveys in which the people who respond are self-selected. Television call-in shows with 900 numbers fall into this category. Surveys in which people actively seek to respond tend to draw out those who have the 

. . . in 1936 it predicted, based on the responses, that Alf Landon would beat Franklin D. Roosevelt.

strongest opinions. As surveys, these so-called straw polls are not worth very much. Again, good news copy.

Statisticians warn that a valid survey requires that every member of the population being surveyed must have an equal chance of being selected.

Literary Digest made the mistake of overlooking the little man in its 1936 presidential survey. The magazine used to send out more than 10 million ballots by mail to various addresses, such as those of automobile owners and of homeowners who had telephones, a luxury then. Some 2 million would be returned.

The magazine did well in 1928 and 1932, but in 1936 it predicted, based on the responses, that Alf Landon would beat Franklin D. Roosevelt. George Gallup used little more than 1,000 randomly selected votes and correctly predicted Roosevelt's landslide re-election. That showed for all times the value of randomness over quantity. Literary 
Digest skewed its own results during the Great Depression by only asking the well-to-do who owned cars and had telephones.

Today it is well established that simple, basic questions, like voter preference can easily be predicted via inferential survey techniques. Of course, such techniques are not very revealing when the public mood is split evenly.

Nor are inferential techniques valid when the questions asked by the public opinion poll have not been well considered by those questioned. An example of such an invalid question might be: "Do you agree or disagree with U.S. policy in Kosovo." Not one in 10 has any idea where Kosovo is, much less U.S. policy.

The emotional factor comes into play, too, which is why George Bush is riding a wave of strong public support after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in the United States.

Nimda virus confirmed to be in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A computer virus is stalking computers here in Costa Rica. The virus probably is the Nimda virus. A.M. Costa Rica received one e-mail from a Costa Rican-based account Monday that was believed to be a vehicle for the virus..

Later in the day, A.M. Costa Rica received a confirmed virus from another address in Costa Rica, but this virus-infected message went through Hotmail where virus-inspection software caught it.

In both cases, the virus seemed to be included in an attachment to the e-mail message. In order for the
virus to spread into the recipient's system, the 
person who gets the e-mail has to open the attachment.

The virus is identified easily because the text of the covering e-mail message usually is nonsensical having been taken randomly from material on the host computer's hard drive.

Once the recipient opens the attachment, the virus enters the hard drive, seeks out e-mail addresses, duplicates itself and mails itself to any e-mail addresses it can find on the host computer. The sheer bulk of e-mail messages plus possible damage by the virus slows down computers and servers.

The virus seems to be designed to target Microsoft Explorer Internet browser software and Microsoft Outlook e-mail programs. Despite rumors to the contrary, the virus has no connection with the terrorist attacks on the United States although it first appeared there about the same time, Sept. 11.

is on,
and a thief

It was another story in the naked city. But this one had a happy ending.

Lunchtime. Friday. North side of the National Insurance Institute in Barrio Amon. A 20-some-year-old woman is walking north along the north side amid a handful of other pedestrians, including one thief.

The tall, slender, bearded thief grabs the woman's shoulder bag. She spins around and shouts, but the thief is off, running downhill in the direction of Morazan Park nearby.

Two men, obviously Ticos, waste no time and take off after the thief, who has a 25-foot head start.

The thief glances back at the men and estimates his chances. They are young and health, too. They could be runners. They would rough him up if they caught him.

He drops the shoulder bag on the curb and runs across Avenida 7. He is seen running across Avenida 5 a minute later, off to find another bag downtown.

The woman thanks the men. All part in different directions.

It was another story in the naked city. But this one had a happy ending.

óJay Brodell
Standing on the job

Isn't there something in the hummingbird's contract that it is supposed to fly all the time?  No sitting on the job? 

But then again this bird bellied up to the goodies in a feeder in the area of La Fortuna might not be a hummingbird. could it be a woodnymph?

Any suggestions?

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Drug dealers are feeling terrorists' impact, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The terrorist attack Sept. 11 in the United States has had a positive effect on the drug war.

While commercial aircraft were grounded for five days, drug shipments, just like legal commerce from Latin America backed up. As a result, Costa Rican police officials have made some spectacular arrests during the last two weeks.

The latest came Saturday when police arrested nine persons and seized 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cocaine in twin raids in Heredia and Alajuela. That follows a raid last week of a Barrio Cuba export warehouse where police said they seized two men and 170 kilos (374 pounds) of cocaine.

Heightened security at airports and tighter land border restrictions are cutting in to the drug trade. Mexico's attorney general, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, said  Monday that security will be tightened to fight terrorism and all forms of organized crime. Special troops were deployed to replace immigration officers in the southern state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala.

The troops have special training in the United States and Israel in fighting the drug trade and terrorism, sources in Mexico confirmed.

Costa Rica has long been a transit hub for drug shipments, some of which come to this country by boat from Colombia and are then shipped out via 

air and via land routes to the United States.  Some drug shipments go to Europe by air.

The big push in the Western Hemisphere has been instigated by U.S. intelligence and police organizations because they want to stop the entry and exit of possible terrorists and also the drugs on which some terrorist organizations depend for financing.

Costa Rican police officials say that some of the drug arrests here have been due directly to information provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Afghanistan is a major center of heroin production, and trade routes are well entrenched from that country, through Pakistan and into international commerce. The Taliban rulers there outlawed poppy production a year ago, although no one knows how effective the edict has been. Poppy sap is the base for heroin production.

Colombian rebel groups and also right-wing paramilitaries there depend on drug production for income. The United States has long conducted a war against drugs in Latin America. The war and its Plan Colombia effort have been little reported since the Sept. 11 attack. But prior to that time aerial spraying of Colombian agricultural areas involved in drug production had become controversial because farmers complained that the spray was damaging their health and the health of their families.

Guerrillas blame army for death of woman hostage
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's largest guerrilla force blames the army for the death of former Culture Minister Consuelo Araujo, who was found shot to death just days after she was kidnapped. 

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, made the comment Monday, two days after authorities found Ms. Araujo's body shot to death in a mountainous section of northern Colombia. The leftist guerrillas also issued a statement implying Ms. Araujo was killed because the army was involved in a mission to rescue her. 

The military had been pursuing Ms. Araujo's kidnappers, who had seized her along with several other people Sept. 24. The others were freed. Colombian authorities say the FARC was responsible for the abduction of Ms. Araujo, who was also the wife of attorney general, Edgardo Maya. 

On Sunday, Colombian President Andres Pastrana said he would re-evaluate his country's entire peace  process in response to Ms. Araujo's murder. President Pastrana also said his nation is tired of kidnappings and systematic attacks on the civilian population. 

Pastrana must decide by early next week whether to extend the time limit on a demilitarized zone assigned to the FARC three years ago in hopes of advancing peace talks. 

The president has been under pressure to take back the zone, which critics say FARC has used to keep kidnap victims for ransom, prepare for war, and run a cocaine business. 

 Colombia has been in the midst of a 37-year civil war that pits the FARC against the army and right-wing paramilitary groups. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade.

A.M. Costa Rica finishes first full month of publishing news
by the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica completed its first full month of operation Sunday, and the Web pages experienced about 45,000 electronic hits during September. 

About 26 percent of the activity came from Costa Rica, although the way the Internet is set up makes it hard to know for sure. Persons living in Costa Rica with e-mail accounts elsewhere, such as with Yahoo and Hotmail, would not be included in this in-country total.

In addition, about 250 persons are signed up for the daily news bulletin that sends via e-mail a brief outline of the day's news stories.

The electronic daily newspaper experienced about 14,000 hits in August when it published just 13 issues. The newspaper began operations with the Aug. 15 issue. The newspaper publishes Monday through Friday, so there were 20 separate issues in September.

A good estimate is that about 1,000 different 

individuals read the A.M. Costa Rica newspages during the course of a week.

In order to generate continued interest in the publication, mangers have decided to maintain the
offer of free classifieds for at least another month. Readers can place their free classifieds by sending the text of their ad to classifieds@amcostarica.com.

A search engine has been considered for the Web site hosting A.M. Costa Rica, but technical details still need to be worked out.

Editors are preparing a table of contents for past editions that will be placed adjacent to the search engine to expedite looking up prior editions.
In  the meantime, prior editions are available by date by going to: 


A number of readers have mailed in good suggestions on changes to the A.M. Costa Rica publication. such suggestions always are welcomed at editor@amcostarica.com

What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier