Historically and habitually, hunters exaggerate the size and numbers of their kill, be the quarry tigers or doves or dragons. But now the Fish and Wildlife Service, a government agency long bedeviled by such misinformation, thinks it knows how to cope with hunting braggarts.
The F.W.S. first realized it had a problem about five years ago, after its agents made on-the-spot checks at public shooting grounds, totting up the daily bags of hunters before they drove away. These recorded figures didn't jibe at all with the claims of hunters using adjacent land, when it came time for these hunters to answer the service's postseason questionnaires. So F.W.S. began a study of the "biases" that enter into hunters' reminiscences.
One is what the service discreetly calls "memory bias." This is what ails hunters who report their season's kill in multiples of the bag limit—if the limit was four, the report is 16 or 20—thus conveying the idea they shot their limit each day they hunted.
Another group has a "neatness bias." These chaps report in round numbers or in multiples of five, and the F.W.S. considers their accuracy suspect. A man who says he shot seven ducks, on the other hand, very likely did so, the service feels.
There is also a "superstition bias." Almost no hunters report killing 13 ducks.
And lastly there is a "prestige bias." If hunters killed as many canvasbacks and mallards as they claim, these prized species would be virtually extinct. Conversely, more of the less valued species are shot each year than hunters choose to admit.
With its bias categories in hand, the Fish and Wildlife Service next called in one of its own experts, Earl Atwood of Patuxent, Md., and asked him to develop methods for statistical correction.
The result is a system of "bias elimination factors," with which a psychology-minded F.W.S. statistician can evaluate a hunter's report, assess which bias group the hunter is in and "correct" the figures accordingly.
It doesn't just audit your report, it audits everybody's. Completely unbiased, you might say.
Hillary to the Heights Again