Friday, November 20, 2009

Turking the Healthcare Bill

As some of you have no doubt heard, the 2,000+ page healthcare bill is making its way through the U.S. Senate and is due for a preliminary vote on Saturday evening. There's a big challenge ahead for legislators trying to make sense of this complex and lengthy legislation.

We'd hate to pass up the opportunity to perform a public service, so we took a few minutes to use our technology to ask Internet denizens (via Amazon's Mechanical Turk) to collectively read the bill in a lot less time than the 36 hours it would take to read it on the Senate floor.

We know that the eyes of the average citizen tend to glaze over looking at the bill, so we opted out of asking turkers for a deep analysis of each page -- they wouldn't have context of neighboring pages, for instance. We instead asked for a visceral response; we asked each turker to type in their most favorite and least favorite words (from their point of view, of course) that they could find in their particular page of legislation.

First we converted each page of the extremely-long PDF into individual bitmaps -- each one looking something like this (though larger):

Then we used our command-line client (discussed previously) to submit each page individually to Mechanical Turk.

The best (most preferred) words can be visualized in the following word cloud:

The worst (least preferred) words are here:

So what does this all mean? Well, if you read the images literally, citizens want quality affordable health benefits, information, and respect. They are fearful of abuse and fiscal limitations . They also loathe the bill's document structure ("subparagraphs" and "subsections") and legal mumbo-jumbo ("striking" and "amended").

The final costs were as follows:
Mechanical Turk fees: $20
Time until entire bill was read: 8 hours
The $20 fee results from each worker's payout of 1 cent for their analysis of a single page. Certainly you'd have to pay a well-heeled K-Street analysis firm a bit more for a similar result. ;)