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Polls and the search for meaning

Written By: - Date published: 12:08 pm, June 26th, 2013 - 79 comments
Categories: polls - Tags:

Imagine if, five times in 18 months, I stuck my head out the window on a random day, made a guess of the temperature that was 95% likely to be 3 degrees or less too high or too low and, then, extrapolated climate change data from my results. You would laugh at me: too much chance and margin of error, not enough data points. Still, that doesn’t stop the Herald.

And you can see why they’ve got to make a big deal of their polls: these things cost tens of thousands of dollars each. You’re talking months of a journalist’s salary for a single poll. So, no matter what it says, it’s going to be a bloody story – a series of stories if possible.

Here, for comparison, is the Roy Morgan results post-election beside the Herald’s (the big dots).

roy morgan polls plus herald

You can see two things – first, the Herald consistently puts National much higher than the Roy Morgan. Second, there just aren’t enough data points to hang a trend off for the Herald. If I put in the error bars as well, you would see that we can’t have a clue who is going up or down or staying still just relying on the Herald. The Roy Morgan, on the other hand, gives us 34 polls since the election and even that is only just enough to really tell us there’s a trend, not just statistical noise. (it’s tempting, almost instinctive, to say the Herald’s trend is divergent from the Roy Morgan trend but you have to pull yourself back and say ‘no, there can be no trend in the Herald’s numbers’)

The irony, of course, is that you see journalists poo-pooing the Roy Morgan for always ‘jumping around’. In fact, jumping around is what polls do – the same population with the same views could return polls taken at the same time with party results that are 4,5,6% different and it wouldn’t mean a thing – that’s just what happens when you ask 750 people a question and then try to extrapolate from that what over 2 million voters think. The irregular polls like the Herald jump around just as much as the Roy Morgan but, because you see them less often, you tend to put more meaning behind those movements.


79 comments on “Polls and the search for meaning”

  1. Stan 1

    You have put my mind at ease, thank you

  2. Rogue Trooper 2

    Here is the relevant Herald article;
    -Labour “down” 5.5
    -Shearer “down” 6.1
    -31.8% support for CUNLIFFE as alternative Leader.
    -NZ1 rise benefitting from “older voters”; there is that conservative, older influence.

    Both Labour and National would be able to form a government.

    As an aside, I had the privilege of a 10 minute korero with Hone Harawira this morning; a cautious man (photo of the Rogue taken with him and whanau).He and Te Hamua have been on the ground (including in Maraenui) with sausage sizzles and “feeling out the electorate”.

    Word: from whanau at the Health Centre- “Mana cracking it in Gizzy and Wairoa, split between Labour and Mana in HB, Green candidiate making hay from Masterton south”.-Charmaine.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    Roy Morgan doesn’t poll “preferred prime minister”, which is obviously a separate, and interesting, indicator compared to party vote.

    Shearer hasn’t done very well in PPM. That is worth talking about.

    • Rich 3.1

      Why? We don’t elect a prime minister.

      (and if they ask preferred PM or any other questions before the “how would you vote”, that will distort the result).

      • Lanthanide 3.1.1

        “Why? We don’t elect a prime minister.”

        And yet Key’s immense popularity is routinely cited, here and elsewhere, as being one of National’s best assets.

    • DS 3.2

      Preferred PM always disproportionately favours the incumbent. Muldoon led Lange in 1984, and Shipley led Clark in 1999 on the Preferred PM stakes. Combine that with the fact that any Labour Government in 2014 will be heavily reliant on a solid Green vote (as opposed to a strong Labour vote), and it is hardly surprising that Shearer polls low in that poll.

  4. James 4

    You are right. Nothing to worry about. Labour is heading in the right direction.

    • Jimmie 4.1

      +1 and Shearer is doing an outstanding job as ‘leader’ long may he continue lol

      • AmaKiwi 4.1.1

        @ James

        “Nothing to worry about. Labour is heading in the right direction.” I presume that’s a direct quote from John Key.

        Preferred PM: Key is preferred 5 to 1 over Shearer.

        If you have ever canvassed door-to-door, you know people vote personalities more than parties.

        The Shearer experiment has failed and with it the Left’s chances of winning the next election.

      • lurgee 4.1.2

        Typical straw man. it is a concern that Labour seem unable to break beyond the low 30s. But that isn’t really down to the leader. It’s reflective of a deeper ennui in the party, and the (rather unpleasant) fact that many New Zealanders actually like John Key and don’t mind his buddies in government. And a huge part of the problem is the refusal of the anti-Shearer faction to accept that he won under the rules that every one agreed too, and thier man didn’t.

        I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest constant schisming about leadership isn’t going to achieve much. I wanted Cunliffe to win, he didn’t, I’m living with it as disunity will only produce another National government. Move on.

        Look to Australia if you want a model – the Labor party there are now celebrating that they might only get a thorough thrashing in the election, instead of an absolute hiding. Wooo, and indeed, hooo.

        I don’t particularly want another three years of National. I think we’ll get that, however, unless we can move the ‘Labour leadership questions’ out of the headlines. It would be great if Shearer could do something positive to help with that; but others need to stop the Rudding from the sidelines, unless we want to be totally Gillarded.

        Incidentally, I don’t think lumping the Labour and Green vote together is particularly wise. I think the Greens would be very cautious about entering into a coalition with a Labour party that won less than 35% of the vote. It would be despised by the electorate and both would likely be punished at the next election. Not many minor coalition partners profit from being in government. The Greens have done very well by staying out and offering ‘constructive opposition’ when Labour were in power. Why would they chance that strategy for the baubles of office? Their 12% is NOT Labour’s to command.

  5. Santi 5

    True: polls are meaningless. Shearer to stay as leader and win the election, yeah right.
    Bring back Cunliffe.

  6. Molly 6

    I notice that whenever comments are warranted… NZ Herald fails to allocate the capacity to do so. Audrey Young columns are usually a case in point.

  7. Chrissy 7

    I have noticed that since mr bojangles,our honourable song and dance man, has been getting a lot of positive press in the media and still increasing,while David Shearer is only interviewed when he is in a negative position that bojangles goes up in the polls.Not long a go when bo wasn’t getting a lot of air in the press the polls were creeping up in favour of the Opposition. It is said that perception is reality and this seems to be the case here as bojangles is re-establishing his man for (fools?) the people ably enabled by an indolent fawning media.Getting very tired of having to watch his daily missives to “the people of new zillund” which is mainly made up of the forcible ejection of the contents of a bulls stomach through it’s nether region.

    • TightyRighty 7.1

      Chrissy, If david shearer and labour weren’t so incompetent, National wouldn’t look so awesome. It’s not the media, it’s not the public, it’s labour. So i hope you have a strong constitution.

    • lurgee 7.2

      ” (fools?) the people”

      Nice attitude there, Chrissy. With that sort of contemptuous mein, you can look forward to a long stint on the opposition benches.

      Has it not occurred to you that, perhaps, the electorate are not fools and are quite cannily rejected in disunited, tired labour party that consistently fails to renew, reinvent and reinvigorate itself?

  8. gobsmacked 8

    David Shearer is only interviewed when he is in a negative position that bojangles goes up in the polls

    Rubbish. David Shearer is interviewed regularly on TV3 Firstline, TVNZ, Radio Live, Newstalk ZB, bFM, Hauraki, Rhema, every other radio station … plus stand-ups in Parliament, by-election, etc. Google and ye shall find.

    The content of the interviews is the problem. That’s why left-leaning blogs don’t link to them, but Labour’s opponents do, with glee.

  9. Peter 9

    Anything to distract from the real issue – David Shearer’s performance?

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Uh, guitar performance? BBQ performance? Reading performance?

      What Labour really need to do to win over middle NZ (thanks John Armstrong) is to bash some more beneficiaries and tell people that benefit cuts and the introduction of workfare are needed to provide the lazy people with incentives to work. (This seems to be the UK Labour approach).

  10. McFlock 10

    I would have thought that after years of this, some folk would have figured out exactly what the “Banks/brown neck and neck” digipoll and the reid research polls are good for: conservative media commentators who want to plug the tory line.

    • AmaKiwi 10.1

      @ McFlock

      I campaigned for my father when I was 12 years old and was stuffing letter boxes when I was 14. I have a lifetime of activism for left causes. I’ve heard, met, and followed Shearer for nearly 2 years. I would NEVER vote for him.

      Face reality. Shearer is NOT leadership material.

      • McFlock 10.1.1

        That’s your opinion. I know labour members who differ.
        Somewhat irrelevant to the point about polls like reid research and digipoll, though.

      • Transient Viper 10.1.2

        You’re just a NACT shill.

    • Colonial Viper 10.2

      Underlying Labour support continues to sit around 32%. This poll merely reinforces that point.

      • Rhinocrates 10.2.1

        If you turn the graphs upside down they look good. You know, maybe all the statisticians have them the wrong way up.

        Even if that’s the case, even the most delusional, surely, who talks about “just scraping over the finish line”, would realise that with a corrupt, cynical, bumbling, scandal-ridden government, there should be a clear trend showing disenchantment… but there isn’t, no matter what chemicals you ingest.

        Labour’s caucus – it’s front bench and Mumblefuck in particular – are simply not credible as an opposition or government in waiting.

        There is no guarantee that they will implement the policy hard-working party members (not “followers”) have sweated so much to create. At the last conference those members were bullied, the Sky City fiasco show the most shallow complacent, solipsistic appreciation of the real issues by the superannuated Rogernomes and their Mini-Mes (Hipkins and Ardern) that dominate the caucus and who’d rather have the best deck chairs at the bottom of the North Atlantic than sail into New York Second Class.

        However nice their policy is, however much I still admire Greater Labour, I have no confidence that the ABC Club will be willing or able to actually implement any of that policy.

        And don’t underestimate the wider public. Indeed, it’s quite insulting, and against core Labour principles, to see them as “sheeple”?, surely? Never think of the electorate as idiots. They can smell incompetence and insincerity a parsec away. Underestimating them cost 800 000 votes in 2011.

        They may not like NACT and their lapdog MP, but they don’t see a government in waiting, and even if we don’t elect the PM directly, campaigning styles are increasingly quasi-Presidential anyway, and omitting Goff from advertising was seen as a big mistake in 2011.

        So the Tory media are against us. Awwww, Diddums, mwah mwah, let Mummy kiss it better, don’t worry, it’s another day tomorrow and so on. If saying “the Tory media are against us” makes you feel better now, will it make you actually, really, materially better in 2015?

        Or do you expect things to be much, much better in say, yet another six months?

        I predict that in late 2014 there are going to be a lot of freshly-painted roofs.

        Eh, obviously that’s not aimed at you, CV.

        • Rogue Trooper

          mmmm, delectable Rhinocrates.

          • Rhinocrates

            I really, really wish that I was wrong. Hope that I am. Another three years of these alleged people in charge will be a disaster.

            That is why I am so… disparaging towards the ABC Club. Are they going to allow that to happen, will they blindly facilitate the same?

            Dear God, no. They’ve got to do better. No “scraping by”, no “wait another six months.”

            • Rogue Trooper

              It is already a ‘disaster’; any fule know dat, time to up the DPS coverage; and yes John, given the chance, on the wrong day, in a heart-beat, without blinking, be doin’ us all a favour in the long run, ‘though many may not see it quite at the moment. 😎 , now, who was that man’s name we used to see graffited all over Wellington concrete for his attempt on the Wanganui computer…hmmm.(and yes, the Rogue will be in Wellington come spring-time.) 😉

      • McFlock 10.2.2

        @ CV
        keep telling yourself that.

        • Colonial Viper

          I see the true mean of Labour support as being around 32% currently.

          You might get a 30.5% poll result one time, you might get a 33.5% poll result another, but this just hovers around 32% or so, where the true mean sits.

          • McFlock

            wishful thinking by the chicken littles.

            • Colonial Viper


              You’re the one with the clear case of wishful thinking. The poll data over the last year supports it. A true mean of circa 32% support for Labour. The election result next year should come in around that level (+/- 3% I’d say)

              • McFlock

                you’re predicting 29% is in the ballpark of the likely Labour vote in 2014?

                I’d put the lower bound at least five percent higher, with the greens at 14% or so.

                • Sir Cullen's Sidekick

                  Agree McFlock. Labour will get around 34% on election night, Greens will be around 14% and NZ First will be 6%. So a Centre-left government will be in place. So no need to worry about all these rouge polls.

  11. jaymam 11

    I suspect that polling done by phoning people up is getting less and less accurate. I used to work for a statistical research company, and one thing that used to be done was to ask a number of unrelated questions in order to determine whether a good balance of respondents were chosen. E.g. if they were all elderly males that watched Coronation Street, we would want to poll some more people.

    In order to phone random phone numbers, some companies probably still use a program that I personally gave them. It has a table for the ranges of all phone numbers in each exchange. I would not be surprised if the table has never been updated. In that case, the phone numbers on the outskirts of cities such as Auckland will never be rung. I’d say those people would mostly be left-wing supporters. In addition, many poorer people don\t have landlines any more, and have a cell phone for emergencies. Some companies claim to poll cellphones but I don’t believe them.

    I note with interest that one polling company is distancing themselves from the person that started that company, and that person is still polling (very badly) using a similar name.

    • Lanthanide 11.1

      “and one thing that used to be done was to ask a number of unrelated questions in order to determine whether a good balance of respondents were chosen. E.g. if they were all elderly males that watched Coronation Street, we would want to poll some more people.”

      But what if, in reality, 80% of all elderly males do actually watch coronation street? If you go deliberately out of your way, and end up with a sample of elderly males, of whom only 30% watch coronation street, then you have in fact distorted your random sample, without being able to tell if you did or not.

    • Roy Morgan call cellphones. I know because they called me and asked me about my political preferences last week.

      • jaymam 11.2.1

        How about the pollsters that always show National much higher than Roy Morgan? Do they call cellphones?

  12. Chooky 12

    With David Cunliffe as leader of the Labour Party it could potentially get 50% of the vote…..this would leave the Greens as their major coalition support party and Wini and Mana as its side boat fellow travelling floatilla

    Just think what a fantastic NZ we could have then!

    Just think how many traditional Labour voters would return to Labour!

    • valid point 12.1

      Country would be bankrupt in 18 months…

      • Colonial Viper 12.1.1

        Well it’s morally bankrupt now, so what’s the difference?

      • One Anonymous Knucklehead 12.1.2

        Yes, because Labour led governments always run up huge deficits, don’t they? And GDP always falls under Labour led governments. Doesn’t it?

        No, wait, maybe the problem is you’re talking drivel.

        • Akldnut

          At the incredible deficit we run at we’re already only inches from bankruptcy VP you idiot

      • Rhinocrates 12.1.3

        Um, the rule of the banksters and their ideology actually did ruin the world’s economy.

        Can you describe the stone you’ve been living under? Was it sedimentary, basalt or metamorphic rock veined with quartz?

    • Peter 12.2

      That will be precisely why Grant Robertson and others don’t want Cunliffe in the leadership. Better to retain control of the losing side than lose control of the winning side.

      • Rhinocrates 12.2.1

        Well, you know, there are lots of interesting fish and isopods down there on the seafloor. The bacteria that create “rusticles” are fascinating, and you’ll have celebrities like James Cameron visit you to make documentaries. Who’d remember the Titanic if it hadn’t sunk. Not that it ever will of course. It’s destined to sail into the harbour because “normal voting patterns will resume”, as Liane Dalziel put it.

        Oh God, I want to be wrong… but not only about the result, about the ability and method.

    • Winston Smith 12.3

      Potentially 50%?!?!?! Uh huh

    • Treetop 12.4

      What you say makes a lot of sense as one coalition partner would be ideal as it would give stability. The old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” this saying can also be applied to the number of leaders in the Labour Party.

      Who is really the leader of the Labour Party?

  13. tsmithfield 13

    The herald poll is obviously one that has been slipping under the radar so far as Nats4Shearer is concerned. We need to be targeting that poll as well to make sure that there is no risk of Shearer being removed as leader of the LP. 🙂

    • Winston Smith 13.1

      shearer is the best and only option for Labour heading into the next election (and preferably the one after that)

  14. Rich the other 15

    We all know the Nat’s will easily win the next election , the only question is , will they need a coalition partner ?.

    Probably not but if they do they have a new option , LABOUR.

    I’ve got to say , it just keeps getting better, enjoy.

    • Rogue Trooper 15.1

      wotta load of rubbish, unless you’re a closet sub, which you appear to be Rich the other.

  15. Sir Cullen's Sidekick 16

    The day you pull your head from your backside is the day you will realise there is a problem with Labour and take measures to address that. There is no point is showing funny graphs to hide the very fact that Shearer is not a popular leader and is doing more harm to the Labour brand than any of his predecessors.

    • gobsmacked 16.1

      This will go over your head SCS, but … it is actually possible to be critical of Shearer AND critical of the reporting of polls.

      In 2011 all the polls were wrong AND Labour’s performance was poor. That’s why National are relying on Dunne (every 2011 poll said they wouldn’t need him) and why we’re pissed off with Labour’s failure to capitalise.

      I realize such nuances are beyond you (coz finking 2 fings at same time ooh brain hurts1!11!1) but there it is.

      • Transient Viper 16.1.1

        If you’re not for Shearer, you’re not for Labour, and you’re not for the Left. Don’t try and spin it any other way.

        We need to show solidarity.

        • Sir Cullen's Sidekick

          I have Labour’s best interests in mind. If a Labour resurgence can be caused by a cardboard cut out, I will vote for that cardboard cut out.

  16. Akldnut 17

    WTH I’m sure the herald pollsters are walking down Queen St polling anyone in a suit, thats the only way they’d get a dodgy poll like this IMO.

    • Sir Cullen's Sidekick 17.1

      Yes agreed. This poll is a dodgy one. Let us continue in the same way and sleep walk to victory in 2014.

    • Colonial Viper 17.2

      Or sitting in a Parnell cafe taking a “random sample” of nearby punters.

  17. infused 18

    I think you need to take out a hit on Shearer…

    I kid… but you really need to get rid of him. I said right at the beginning he was the best thing for National. Right on that one.

    • Rogue Trooper 18.1

      some truth in that, one has to conceed, although, he does has have his moments, Shearer is not the one in ‘The Mechanics’ sights! (let them choke on some pies and Penthouse over that exclaimation). You cannot arrest an idea.

    • Boadicea 18.2

      No need to “take out a $&@’ , Infused 18
      Grand Roberstson has been putting bromide in Shearer’s tea for two years.

      • Colonial Viper 18.2.1

        Watch what goes into that tea water. Chlorine fine. Bromide fine. Fluoride no. 😈

  18. Just do it 19

    This does not have to be hard.
    This poll is a concern and the flatness of the past polls is a concern. Between now and the spring the Caucus need to reform itself dramatically. It is possible.
    As Toby Manhire suggested in the Herald last week “..the promotion of an MP who had served his time would project strength, evidence of the leader’s vaunted experience in conciliation..”
    I’d add to that the early retirement of Goff, King and Mallard coupled with the appointment of new managers in Shearer’s office who are NOT selected by Grant Robertson. Shearer has to stop what he is currently doing. It is not working. He needs to create a new team.

    Cunliffe seems to be more focused than ever on his portfolio. He continues to show that he can engage with business people and issues as well as with the workers, consumers and the disenfranchised. His recent contributions to debates in Parliament show he is more centered than ever. Cunliffe looks like a guy who has learned from whatever was done to him last year. He has demonstrated that he can swallow a rat, and get on with folk in the beltway as well a burbs.
    Shearer has the choice: to continue as is or to make a change.
    Go on Shearer, make the necessary changes, now, refresh and position yourself to get our score out of the low 30s and into the 40s.
    Your last chance.

    • Anne 19.1

      Well said Just do it, but I’m afraid recent history suggests your wise advice – and those of others here – will continue to be ignored.

  19. Tom 20

    Hahahahahahahah absolutely incredible!

  20. Paul 21

    I think Labour should get rid of Shearer. However, I also think Labour should not be driven by polls.
    The right wing corporate media will only highlight polls when the Tories are doing well.
    This poll has gained far more publicity than many others. The corporate media uses polls to persuade citizens it’s not worth voting.
    It’s just one weapon in the armoury of the neo-liberal regime.

    • Brett Dale 21.1


      Then how come, a couple of polls back, which should Labour going up and National going down, was the lead story on stuff and nzherald, and lead tvnz one news?

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    It was a privilege to visit Rātana Pā last week with fellow Greens’ Co-leader James Shaw, our Māori Caucus and senior staff to meet with the leaders of te iwi mōrehu, to strengthen the ties between the Green Party and ...
    GreensBy Metiria Turei
    1 week ago
  • MBIE docs show country needs KiwiBuild, not Key’s pretend “building boom”
    John Key’s spin that New Zealand is in a building boom does not change the massive shortfall in building construction as new MBIE papers reveal, says Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  “We can fix the housing crisis, by the ...
    1 week ago
  • 1 in 7 Akl houses now going to big property speculators
    Speculators are running riot in the Auckland housing market making life tougher for first home buyers, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  Newly released data from Core Logic shows a 40 per cent increase in the share of house sales ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Disconnected thinking dirties the water
    Iain Rabbitts’ belief that drinking water quality, charging for water use and the land use that leads to water quality degradation should be treated separately is part of the problem we have right now in this country. The connection is ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Report back from Hands Off Our Tamariki hui
    This week I attended a hui in Otaki organised by Hands Off Our Tamariki about the proposed reforms to the Child Young Persons and their Families Act. Moana Jackson and Paora Moyle spoke.  They expressed deep, profound concern about the proposed ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour mourns passing of Helen Kelly
    Helen Kelly was a passionate advocate for working New Zealanders and for a safe and decent working life, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says.  “Helen Kelly spent her adult life fighting for the right of every working person to ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National’s visionless immigration policy
    National’s recent immigration announcement is a continuation of the visionless approach to government that it has displayed in the last three terms. Rather than using the levers of government to implement a sustainable immigration policy that benefits new and current ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    2 weeks ago
  • Andrew Little: Speech to the Police Association Conference 2016
    Police Association delegates, Association life members and staff, representatives from overseas jurisdictions. Thank you for inviting me here today. The Police Association has become a strong and respected voice for Police officers and for policing in New Zealand. There is ...
    2 weeks ago
  • 1,000 more police for safer communities
    Labour will fund an extra 1,000 Police in its first term to tackle the rising rate of crime, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “Labour will put more cops on the beat to keep our communities safe. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Call for all-party round table on homelessness
    Labour is calling on the Government to take part in a roundtable meeting to hammer out a cross-party agreement on ending homelessness.  Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said the country wanted positive solutions to homelessness, and wanted the political parties ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Seclusion rooms in schools
    Schools are undoubtedly stretched and underfunded to cope with students with high learning support needs. But this cannot justify the use of rooms (or cupboards) as spaces to forcibly isolate children. It has emerged via media that this practice continues ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Public should get a say on new Waikato power station
    I had an opinion piece published in the Waikato Times about a controversial proposal to build a new gas-fired power station. It’s not on their website yet, so here it is: If you think the public would get a say ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    2 weeks ago
  • MSD and their investment approach
    The Government talks about investment but there is no investment. It is not investment if it isn’t over the whole of life and if there is no new money  — Shamubeel Eaqub   Investment sounds like adequate resourcing but this ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Certainty needed for community services
    A couple of months ago I was at a seminar where three community organisations were presenting. Two of the three presenters were waiting to find out if their organisation would get a contract renewed with MSD. Not knowing if their ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Domestic Violence – some advice for the media
    For the purpose of this piece, I’m going to use Domestic Violence (DV) as a proxy for intimate partner violence. DV is not isolated to physical abuse in a relationship between people with the same power. DV is a pattern of ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    3 weeks ago
  • Leroy’s New Paw Prints
    Leroy, an Auckland great dane recently received a new 3D printed bionic leg after cancer was discovered. I think this is a fantastic story and highlights the real potential of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing Leroy’s prosthetic was printed in titanium and was ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    3 weeks ago